BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It's been the star of countless postcards, a back drop for weddings and the most photographed structure around.
The Biloxi lighthouse has long been a subject of fascination for tourists and locals alike.
Built in 1848 as a "working lighthouse," the cast iron tower is now symbolic of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The view from the top is spectacular. That's partly why the Biloxi Lighthouse became such a tourist attraction. Tours of the lighthouse stopped several years ago, but will likely resume next Spring following a lighthouse restoration project that's about to begin.
"You know, Biloxi. The lighthouse is our signature," said Mayor A.J. Holloway.
The mayor of Biloxi admits he and other longtime residents may have grown up taking the Biloxi lighthouse somewhat for granted. It's just always been there, says Mayor A.J.Holloway.
The landmark's very presence after Katrina gave everyone a welcome boost.
"A signature for the whole Mississippi Gulf Coast, not just Biloxi, but the state of Mississippi. Particularly since it's on the car tags, and now it's going to be on a stamp. So, I think it's significant. That's our history. That's part of our history and culture in Biloxi," said Mayor Holloway.
The lighthouse has adorned countless picture postcards over many decades. Come to the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast say the many "wish you were here" cards.
And for years, visitors not only stopped to snap pictures of the famous lighthouse, they climbed 55 stairs to the top, where spectacular scenery awaited.
An upcoming lighthouse restoration project will breathe new life into the storied tower.
"I want the work to start in May, so we can get the lighthouse completely finished by the end of the year. So, we're looking at November-December to finish it. And in the spring, being able to reopen it for tours," says Bill Raymond, who's in charge of the city's historic properties.
"The flood waters and the surge washed out part of the brick interior. So, that's part of what we have to replace. We have to completely redo the electrical, which was destroyed in the storm. Repair and replace the door. Put a new fence around it. New irrigation system. So, it's going to look like it did before the storm when we get through with it," said Raymond.
Along with restoring the lighthouse itself, plans are in the works to build a brand new visitors center on the northside of Highway 90 directly across from the tower.
"This is a whole new structure. It will be a 25,000 square foot, two story structure that looks and kind of reminds you of the Dantzler House that was on the site. But also has some elements of Beauvoir in it. It will be very traditional design that I think the community will be proud of," said Raymond.
"I think it's a symbol of the people, in my opinion, 'cause it's a one of a kind lighthouse first of all. It has weathered numerous storms. And it's not only a symbol for Biloxi, but a symbol for the whole state in my opinion," said local historian Edmond Boudreaux.
That symbol now adorns car tags in Mississippi. A special lighthouse series stamp will be unveiled this summer. And the newly restored Biloxi Lighthouse should be finished by the end of this year.
"The end result will be history restored. We never lose our history. But it's nice to have a structure that shows you that history," says Boudreaux.
Bids for the lighthouse restoration project are due by April 15th. The work is expected to start in May and will take about six months to finish.