Southwest Reef Lighthouse photo in 2004.
In April 1987, a proposal was pitched to the Town Council in Berwick to relocate the Southwest Reef Lighthouse from its original offshore location south of the Town, in an attempt to preserve the historic structure for future generations. By June of that year, the Louisiana Legislature had approved House Bill 1080, sponsored by Rep. V. J. Bella transferring ownership of the lighthouse to Berwick without compensation from the state. On Thursday, October 8, 1987, the Lighthouse was lifted from the screw piling where it had sat since before the Civil War, moved and later place at the Berry Bros. General Contractors facility in Berwick where sandblasting and restoration work would begin. It wasn’t until April of 1990 that the structure was moved to it current location along the waterfront in Berwick and placed at the Everett S. Berry Memorial Lighthouse Park for further onsite restoration work. The final touches were eventually completed in July of 1996 with the installation of doors and windows and its capping with a replica of the original lamp room. Improvements to the site have continued with recent upgrades to adjacent wharfs, the addition of landscaping and benches, and improved parking facilities. In 1988, the lighthouse itself was place on the National Registrar of Historic Places.
What follows is a recap of the history of the Southwest Reef Lighthouse courtesy of information from the Morgan City Daily Review.
Southwest Reef Lighthouse which stands on the banks of the Berwick Bay after its 130-plus year vigil on the Atchafalaya Bay is the first lighthouse many area residents have ever seen. Its current state tells more a story of its trials and battles against the elements than the brief notes written about it, for not much information is available on the “red tower” of the Gulf of Mexico.
|Historic U. S. Coast Guard photo of Southwest Reef |
Lighthouse. The 26-foot-tall fog signal tower to the
left of the Lighthouse,was installed in 1875 and
included a 1,200 pound bell and steam fog-whistle.
Southwest Reef was built in 1858 and was lighted for the first time on Sept. 1, 1859. It was built to replace Point Defer (Point Au Fer) Light Station below Eugene Island.
Southwest Reef was unique in shape for the Gulf, a square pyramid sheathed in iron with a 28 foot base and standing 37 feet in height. It was also one of the first to be placed on screw piles, a unique way to provide stable footing under unsure foundation conditions. With an elevation of 49 feet above sea level, the lighthouse was visible for 12 miles. During a fog, both a bell and horn were sounded to guide sailors into Atchafalaya Bay. A third order Fresnel lens was initially authorized for the lighthouse, but only a fourth order lens showing a red light was ever installed.
Southwest Reef Lighthouse is lifted
into place in preparation for further
The Confederates deactivated the lighthouse during its third year of operation, and it remained dark throughout the Civil War. In 1865, Union forces discovered the lamps, lens, and plates of glass from the lantern room at St. Martinville, Louisiana. The items were returned to the tower during the summer of 1865, and the lighthouse was reactivated on the sixth anniversary of its first lighting.
The lighthouse was originally painted red, but during January and February 1867, the tower was coated with coal-tar. It was discovered that the lead-based red paint was tainting rainwater that was collected in a cistern and used for drinking. Historians believe the black iron may have been unbearably hot for the keeper, but it remained black until its decommissioning in 1916.
Southwest Reef was visited by an unusually severe hurricane October 6 and 7, 1866. This hurricane drove seas “against, around and through” the lighthouse, tearing the gallery to pieces and caving in the iron floor, 9 feet above high water. The waves destroyed everything inside the keeper’s quarters in the lower portion of the structure, including his personal belongings. The keeper later told the lighthouse board that if the gallery had not yielded to the seas, “the entire lighthouse would have been destroyed.”
A Fresnel Lens is displayed in the Lobby of
Town Hall and can be easily viewed even on
days when the offices are closed. This lens
of unknown origin is on loan courtesy
of the United State Coast Guard.
Post-Hurricane repairs revealed the iron pilings had been thrown together without diagonal bracing for strength, “a very dangerous omission in so exposed a structure.” The original architect’s rendering of the lighthouse called for the diagonal braces below the water. In 1872, the keeper’s quarters were removed and open framework was left to ease the shock of high seas in favor of raising the structure on additional framework, including the diagonal bracing. The keeper’s quarters were built inside the lighthouse. Work was completed March 31, 1875, and included installation of a 26-foot-tall fog signal tower which included a 1,200 pound bell and steam fog-whistle.
Just prior to World War I, a channel was cut through the Point Au Fer Shoal, to create a more direct route to the Atchafalaya River. Point Au Fer Reef Lighthouse was constructed on an island formed by the dredging operation. Upon activation of the new lighthouse in 1916, Southwest Reef Lighthouse was discontinued. For seventy years the structure remained as a day beacon, abandoned, as it rusted away until brought ashore by the town of Berwick on October 8, 1987.
Little else is written about the history of Southwest Reef Lighthouse. The only other notes about the lighthouse are snippets for funds appropriated for or updates on repairs to the structure by Coast Guardsmen or keepers.
Today, the tower stands on the western bank of the Atchafalaya River in Berwick, the center piece of the Everett S. Berry Memorial Lighthouse Park.
Everett S. Berry, was Mayor of
Berwick, Louisiana from 1985 to 1989.
Members of the Berry family at
the dedication of the Everett S. Berry
Memorial Lighthouse Park.
|Located in front of the Berwick Town Hall on Third
Street is a Fog Bell donated by the U. S Coast Guard
in 1987. The bell, cast in 1915 by the E. A. Williams &
Sons Bell Founders in Jersery City, N.J., had been
sitting in a U.S.C.G. warehouse in New Orleans.
Ironically, this bell was originally located at the Point
Au Fer Lighthouse which replaced the Southwest Reef
Lighthouse in the Atchafalaya Bay in 1916. Additionally
Southwest Reef Lighthouse replaced the Point Defer
(Point Au Fer) Light Station in 1859.
Southwest Reef Lighthouse Keepers
Lighthouse at Berry Bros. awaiting initial
- P.G. Nicod of Denmark, 1859 (the first keeper of Southwest Reef Lighthouse)
- George Wright, James Fitch, William Burroughs and Charles Sutton, 1860
- Francis H. Clarke of New York and Robert Young, 1865
- Jonathan Dazey and Berneard McKeely, both from Ireland, 1867
- Bernard Segerston, J. A. Graham, both Sweden and Richard Dorn of Maryland, 1868
- John Nicho1s of Maryland, William Sheridan of Ireland, Francis H. Clarke and A. Ross of, England, 1869
- Philip Daykia of Ohio, 1870
- Alvin Smith, Henry Hughes of Maine, Charles H, Walker of Georgia and John Anderson of Norway, 1871
- Julius Hebert of Switzerland,1877
- Peter Williamson, of Finland 1879
- Edward Rollingson of Louisiana, 1881 and 1882
- Peter Williams of Finland 1883 and 1884
- Harry Anderson of Sweden, 1892 and 1893
- Edward L. Rollingson, 1894
- Samuel Jones of Connecticut, 1899
- Samuel Jones, John Anderson and Samuel Jones, 1900
- Jno. A. Childs, 1903
- William H. Oliver, 1905
- George D. Johnson, Alberi Johnneson and George. W. Fullerton, 1906
- Daniel Keefe, 1907
- Samuel Jones, Daniel Keefe, 1908
- Edward Rollingson, 1909
- Thomas Zettwock, 1911
- Albert Matulech, 1912 (the last listed keeper of Southwestwest Reef).