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Lighthouses

Always guiding the way.
For more than two centuries, lighthouses have guarded the Outer Banks coast. Generations of seaborne travelers and mariners have sought the comfort of these beacons' reassuring light as they navigated perilous channels and shoals that mark the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Perhaps that is why these sentinels, among the tallest in America, have come to serve as beacons of hope and inspiration.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Located just south of Nags Head, the Bodie Island Lighthouse as it stands today is the third such beacon built to help mariners maneuver the coast from Cape Hatteras to Currituck Beach. The original Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced “body”) was built in 1847, on the south side of Oregon Inlet in an area known today as Pea Island. Abandoned twelve years later due to a poor foundation, the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1859, again south of the inlet, but was blown up in 1861 by retreating Confederate troops who feared the Union would use it to their advantage for navigation.

Today’s Bodie Island Lighthouse was completed in 1872 on the north side of Oregon Inlet near the northern border of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The familiar black and white horizontal striped structure was partly built of materials leftover from the construction of the newest Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Standing 150 feet high and equipped with a first-order Fresnel lens, it flashes its 160,000 candlepower beacon 19 miles over the ocean. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is considered its architectural twin.  Bodie Island Lighthouse is now open for climbing for the first time ever.

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse stands 158 feet tall, and is located in Corolla, NC. Its first order Fresnel lens began flashing on December 1, 1875. The beautiful bare brick beacon was built to fill the last remaining “dark spot” of the North Carolina coast between Bodie Island and Cape Henry, VA. Prior, many ships foundered in the 80-mile navigational void at night, but the Currituck Beach Lighthouse with its beam visible for 18 miles, help solved the problem.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, also known as America’s Lighthouse, is the tallest brick beacon in the country standing 208 feet. The familiar black and white spiral-striped landmark serves as a warning to mariners of submerged and shifting sandbars, which extend almost twenty miles off Cape Hatteras into the Atlantic Ocean. They are known as the Diamond Shoals.

The present lighthouse, officially completed and lit in December 1870, is the second built of three that have been constructed in Buxton. The first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built in 1803. It was a sandstone structure 90 feet tall that projected an insufficient light beam using a collection of Argand lamps and reflectors. The Sitars were modified to a new height of 150 feet in 1854, and a first order Fresnel lens was installed, the most powerful of its day. The lamp was also fueled by whale oil, as was the previous light. During the Civil War in 1861, retreating Confederate soldiers took the Fresnel lamp from the lighthouse, to keep it out of Union hands. North Carolina’s Outer Banks and the inlets that allowed passage between them were considered of utmost strategic importance by Union forces to keep supplies from reaching the interior of the Confederate aligned southern state by sea. Shell damage during the war and structural deterioration prompted the construction of a replacement lighthouse in 1870, the one we enjoy today. The original lighthouse was then demolished in 1871. The ruins of which could be seen until a powerful storm in 1980 washed away the visible traces.

Whale oil was replaced by kerosene by the 1880’s, and by 1934, the beam was electrified. However, beach erosion threatened the base of the lighthouse by 1935, prompting the construction of a third lighthouse some distance away in the Buxton Woods. It was a steel skeleton tower that utilized an airport beacon. Fifteen years later, the 1870 lighthouse was again put back in operation, as erosion patterns changed. However, the Fresnel lens was vandalized in the 1940’s when the older lighthouse stood empty during those years. Now it uses two active 1000-watt lamps, visible for more than 20 miles. In 1999 the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved a half mile inland, to save it from the encroaching Atlantic. The Lighthouse was cut from its original base, hydraulically lifted onto steel beams and traveled along railroad tracks to its present position over the course of 23 days. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is now as far from the ocean as when originally constructed in 1870.

Ocracoke Lighthouse

The Ocracoke Lighthouse is North Carolina’s oldest operating lighthouse. In 1798, a 54 foot wooden tower was built on the point of Ocracoke Inlet to mark the channel. Soon afterward, the inlet shifted, rendering the lighthouse ineffective. It was replaced by a light vessel in the inlet in 1820, but by 1822 this structure was rendered useless yet again by shifting sands, and Congress authorized the funding to build the present tower, which stands 75 feet tall and shines 14 miles out to sea. As a harbor light, it emits a constant fixed beam. Not open for climbing. Ocracoke Island is accessible by a free ferry.

The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

This lighthouse is modeled after an 1877-1955 screwpile lighthouse that once guided mariners along a narrow channel connecting the Pamlico Sound to the Croatan Sound, at the south side of Roanoke Island in an area known as Roanoke Marshes. Today’s lighthouse is the fourth incarnation of the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, and uses a fourth order Fresnel lens. Once fairly numerous, no less than a dozen screwpile lighthouses served as aids to navigation along North Carolina’s trafficked rivers and sounds, dating back to the 1800’s. Easily accessible along the Manteo Waterfront, the lighthouse contains exhibits highlighting Roanoke Island’s lighthouse and maritime history.

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