The 1848 lighthouse that straddles Beach Boulevard is the most recognizable man-made landmark of Biloxi, arguably of the Mississippi Coast.
Rumors immediately after the storm that the lighthouse hadn't survived Katrina caused heavy hearts. If this landmark that had outwitted 17 hurricanes didn't make it, what could?
They were just rumors. The lighthouse withstood the surge and wind. About six weeks ago the city turned on the night beacon, with the help of a power pole similar to ones that bring electricity to thousands of FEMA trailers.
"It was important to get power back to the lighthouse," said Bill Raymond, Biloxi's historical administrator. "It is a sign that we are coming back."
Within days after the storm, structural engineer Patrick Sparks, who specializes in historic structures and had arrived from Texas as an early volunteer, checked out the lighthouse's sturdiness.
"That structure is a monument to the Coast," said Sparks, who since has opened a office on Rue Magnolia. "It is very well constructed, made of cast-iron plates that are bolted together and sit on a brick foundation. It survived Katrina very well."
Sparks said water carried away some sand from the foundation and the surge likely gave the tower a push.
"We think it leans a little more than before, to the northeast," he said. "The survey crew shot some elevations. It is stable but we will monitor it over time as a precaution."
Another effect of Katrina is missing interior liner bricks. A pumping action from water inside the tower brought down a 10-foot-high section.
"The brick can be put back easily," Sparks said. "I've made recommendations to do bracing and take this opportunity to look at the condition of the iron plates and bolts, which have some corrosion after so many years in a marine environment. They need to be cleaned and treated."
The tower was manufactured in Baltimore 158 years ago for $6,347.50, brought here by schooner and assembled. At one point, after U.S. 90 was built along the beachfront and four-laned, "Ripley's Believe It or Not" listed it as the only lighthouse straddling a busy highway.
- KAT BERGERON