I went to the Lakefront to see the Arthur Silverman sculptures you wrote about (July 5), and saw that on the UNO campus near the end of Elysian Fields is a historic-looking but small lighthouse. Is it still or was it ever used?
That lighthouse has been a landmark at the lakefront for more than 175 years. It is known as the Port Pontchartrain or Milneburg lighthouse, named for the resort area that once stood at the spot.
In the 1830s, Scottish businessman Alexander Milne purchased a large tract of land near Lake Pontchartrain and established it as Milneburg. The Pontchartrain Rail-Road line for the famous Smoky Mary train brought patrons to the resort and amusement area, which also became known as a hot spot for jazz.
According to a U.S. Coast Guard history, the lighthouse was built after Congress allocated $5,000 for its construction. It was completed in 1838. At the time, the lighthouse sat about 3,000 feet offshore, but over the years it was left high and dry by projects that reclaimed the land near the lake. One interesting note about its history is that beginning in 1882, a succession of three women served as lighthouse keepers. The best known and longest-serving was Margaret Dimitry Norvell, who stood watch over the lighthouse from 1896 until 1924.
In the 1930s, Pontchartrain Beach amusement park was developed around Milneburg, but the lighthouse survived and became a feature of the Kiddieland area of the park. The lighthouse went dark in 1929 and eventually was decommissioned. After Pontchartrain Beach closed in 1983, the nearby land was dormant until 1991, when the University of New Orleans acquired the property and built its Research and Technology Park there, preserving the lighthouse for posterity.