Lighthouses of the Outer Banks of North Carolina
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse stands 158 feet above the dunes, with a first order Fresnel lens flashing its first beacon on December 1, 1875. Located in Corolla, NC, it was built to fill the last remaining "dark spot" of the NC coast between Bodie Island to the south and Cape Henry, VA to the north. Many ships foundered in the 80-mile darkness between the two lighthouses, but this lighthouse, with its beam visible for 18 miles, solved the problem. To distinguish it from other regional lighthouses, it was left unpainted in natural red brick.
The Lighthouse Keeper's House, a Victorian "stick style" dwelling, was constructed from pre-cut labeled materials shipped by the U.S. Lighthouse Board on a barge, then assembled on site. In 1876, the Keeper's House was completed, and soon two keepers and their families began to share the duplex in its isolated seaside setting. When the lighthouse became automated, the keepers were no longer needed and the Keeper's House was abandoned.
By 1980, the Lighthouse Keeper's House was in ruins and much of the millwork inside had been vandalized. That same year, the Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc., concerned with the preservation of the historic property, signed a lease with the State of North Carolina. This lease charges the group with the responsibility of restoring the Keeper's House.
Most of the exterior restoration is nearly complete and the inside restoration work is still on going. Meanwhile, other structures on the compound have been saved. A smaller keeper's dwelling on the compound has been restored and is open to the public as a lighthouse museum shop.
Located just south of Nags Head, the Bodie Island Light, encircled by two black and three white bands, stands 150 feet high. Equipped with a first-order Fresnel lens, it flashes its 160,000 candlepower beacon 19 miles over the ocean.
Originally built in 1847, the lighthouse was rebuilt with improvements in 1859. In 1862 Confederate troops blew up the structure to prevent its use by the Union forces, which occupied the Outer Banks.
On October 1, 1872, the present tower was put into operation and is the third lighthouse built on the site at a cost of $140,000. According to a light keeper on duty at the time, shortly after this light was activated, a flock of wild geese flew into the lantern, breaking the glass and causing severe damage to the lens. It was quickly repaired, and a wire screen was placed around the light to prevent further mishap.
The name Bodie was originally spelled Body and is still pronounced "body" (as in "a body of water"). There are several stories, which attempt to explain the spelling and pronunciation. Some say it was because so many bodies washed ashore from shipwrecks. Some claim it was because an island is a body of land. Others believe it was the name of someone who helped build the light or was stationed there.
The lighthouse is not open for climbing, but the keeper's quarters have been restored and are now used as a visitor's center, which is open year round. There is also a nature walk through the surrounding marsh.
Location: Within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Facilities: Guided tours are offered at the Bodie Island Lighthouse at set intervals, on a daily basis. For more information, including tour times and admission price, please visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse website. (View our seven tips for climbing the lighthouse.) The keeper’s quarters have been restored and are now used as a visitor’s center which is open year round. There is also a nature walk through the surrounding marsh.
Contact Information: (252) 441-5711
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, standing at 208 feet, is the tallest in the United States. The lighthouse is painted in black and white spirals, with a red base. Its light can be seen for 20 miles, warning ships of the submerged sand bars where so many ships have foundered.
The present lighthouse is the second of three that have been situated on the cape. The first was authorized by Congress in 1794 and completed ten years later, shining a weak beam out over the ocean. Shells from Union ships damaged the light in 1861, and retreating Confederate soldiers took the original lamp from this first lighthouse. The lamp was never found.
The present structure, the second tower, was erected in 1869-1870 by the U.S. Lighthouse Board. The Lighthouse Board became the Lighthouse Service, which is now part of the U.S. Coast Guard. A first-order Fresnel lens magnified a small oil wick flame at the tower's top, which was lit for the first time on December 16, 1870.
Vandals damaged the lens in the present structure when the Federal Government abandoned it in 1935. A third temporary structure was built of steel in 1936 and placed about two miles northeast in Buxton. The light from the temporary tower was moved to the present lighthouse on July 23, 1950, which put it back into operation. When reactivated, it was replaced by a rotating beacon--a double affair with 1000-watt lamps in each beacon--visible for 20 miles. However, it has been reported as being seen 51 miles at sea and 115 miles in the air.
Opening for Climbing: Mid-April through Columbus Day. Visitor's Center museum and grounds open year-round.
Located on the southwestern corner of Ocracoke Village, and built in 1823, this is the Outer Bank's shortest lighthouse, at only 75 feet. It is also the oldest lighthouse still in operation in North Carolina, and one of the oldest on the east coast.
In 1798, a 54-foot wooden tower was built on the Ocracoke Inlet entrance where Edward Teach, otherwise known as "Blackbeard the Pirate," lived at one time. The channel shifted, rendering the lighthouse ineffective. It was replaced by a light vessel in the inlet in 1820, but by 1822 this structure was also rendered useless by shifting sands, and Congress authorized the money to build the present tower, which stands 75 feet tall. The lighthouse was cemented and whitewashed in 1868, giving it the appearance it has today.
Originally fueled by whale oil, it is now lit by automatic electric power and shines 14 miles out to sea.
Not open for climbing. Ocracoke Island is accessible by a free ferry. Free admission.