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Kate Walker here. While I was tending the light on Robbins Reef, Margaret Norvell was tending the light at Port Pontchartain on Lake Pontchartain north of New Orleans in Louisiana. She was there from 1896 until 1924, living in a  square, two-story white frame dwelling built on an iron pile foundation, with a slate roof surmounted by a fifth-order black lantern.

Before that assignment she had been at Head of Passes Light Station in the Mississippi Delta, where her keeper husband drowned, leaving her with two small children. Tending the beacon lights at Head of Passes was considered too strenuous for a woman, so Maggie was transferred to Port Pontchartrain.

LA New Canal (5) copy
New Canal (West End) Lighthouse, Louisiana. Postcard courtesy U.S. Lighthouse Society

In 1924 she moved to New Canal Light Station, also on Lake Pontchartain, and stayed until 1932. The New Canal Lighthouse originally stood in the water, but was later surrounded by dry land in Lakefront Park. The water surge off Lake Pontchartrain during Hurricane Katrina destroyed the base of the lighthouse in 2005. Funds were raised to rebuild, and the new lighthouse reopened on April 13, 2013. I wonder if Hurricane Harvey has done any recent damage?

Margaret Norvell was recognized numerous times for assisting other in distress: “In every big hurricane or storm here since 1891, her lighthouse has been a refuge for fishermen and others whose homes have been swept away. In the . . . storm of 1903 Mrs. Norvell’s lighthouse was the only building left standing on the lower coast, and over 200 survivors found a welcome and shelter in her home. After each storm she started the relief funds and helped the poor folk get back to normal.”

Maggie Norvell said, “there isn’t anything unusual in a woman keeping a light in her window to guide men home. I just happen to keep a bigger light than most women because I have got to see that so many men get safely home.”

USCGC Margaret Norvell
A Coast Guard fast response cutter named after Margaret Norvell was launched in June 2013. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

You can read Keeper Sidney Z. Gross’s vivid account of the 1938 hurricane at Saybrook Breakwater Light in Connecticut courtesy <>.

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker loresQuotes are from the Morning Tribune, June 26, 1932, and The Times Piscayne, September 27, 1931.

Submitted September 5, 2017

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