Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2018

The Traveling Cornerstone

By Timothy Harrison

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Architectural drawing done in 1817 by Henry ...

As late as May of 1971, the 800-pound marble cornerstone of Louisiana’s first and second Frank’s Island Lighthouse was laying gathering dust in the carport in the Metairie, Louisiana, home of Mark Delesdernier, Jr., the man who had saved it for posterity.

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The abandoned and lantern-less Frank’s Island ...

The first Frank’s Island Lighthouse was quite an elaborate looking structure with a keeper’s quarters built in an extended wide area around the base of the tower, and it also had columns that surrounded the base of the tower. Directly above the entryway door to the tower and the keeper’s quarters, an 800-pound marble cornerstone was installed. It read as follows:

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At his home on May 4, 1971, river pilot Mark ...

Erected in 1820

Contracted for by Winslow Lewis of Boston

Executed by Benjamin Beal

and Duncan Mc. B. Thaxter

At the time, Frank’s Island Lighthouse was the most expensive lighthouse built in the United States.

First lit in March of 1820, the structure did not last long. Ten days after it was first lighted, the colonnade and outer walls of the keeper’s quarters collapsed, and the tower, although still standing, was leaning. The tower remained standing for a while, but was subsequently torn down and its materials were set aside to be used in constructing the 2nd tower for Frank’s Island Lighthouse.

Not wanting to waste the 800-pound marble cornerstone, officials saved and reinstalled it on the side of the new second tower. However, they made a slight alteration to the marble plaque by changing the zero in the year 1820 to a three for 1823, the year when the new 2nd tower was erected. The new or second Franks Island tower was almost identical to the first tower, except it did not have the wider base for the keeper’s quarters and the elaborate columns, all of which, because of their weight, had caused the first tower to sink and the lower part of the tower to break away in ruins.

Unfortunately, by 1855 the government decided that Frank’s Island Lighthouse was to be discontinued. Its lantern was removed and the tower was left to the elements. Sadly, it seems that there are no known photographs of the tower with its lantern.

Over the years, the condition of Frank’s Island lighthouse deteriorated. Its 800-pound marble plaque remained intact until the mortar around it began to loosen up, and eventually it fell into the water and probably would have remained there and lost forever if it had not been for Mississippi River boat Captain Mark Delesdernier, Jr., who had been visiting the lighthouse since he was a boy. One day he decided he wanted to find out for sure if the plaque had fallen into the water or somehow had been stolen. His efforts paid off and he found the plaque in the water below the lighthouse. His first attempt to raise the cornerstone failed when the weight of the plaque sunk the small boat that he had hoisted it upon. Not to be deterred, he tried again - this time with a bigger boat. Although he did recover the plaque for posterity, he was not sure what to do with it, and it remained at his home for a number of years.

Eventually he donated it to Plaquemines Parish and they, in turn, placed it in a hewed-out brick section of old Fort Jackson that had been built in the early 1800s as a coastal defense fort. Above the Frank’s Island Lighthouse cornerstone they then placed a metal plaque that explains the history of the cornerstone as well as honoring Captain Delesdernier for saving and donating it, and to the Plaquemines Parish Commission Council for placing it.

In 2002, Mother Nature took its final toll on the lantern-less Frank’s Island Lighthouse, and the structure literally collapsed, and is now lost forever.

Fort Jackson was badly damaged by the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This was followed by more damage that same year by Hurricane Rita. The fort sat under water for weeks, and many of the historic exhibits at the fort were destroyed. The fort itself suffered structural damage and is currently closed to the public.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2018 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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