Friday, August 23, 2013

Ocracoke Light

Lou Ann volunteered to periodically open the base of the Ocracoke Lighthouse again this summer for the benefit of island visitors.

To prepare for the inevitable questions, Lou Ann read as much about the lighthouse as she could. While she was re-reading Ellen Marie Fulcher Cloud's book, The Ocracoke Lighthouse, she came across this statement by [John] Blount (1752-1833): "At the entrance, on Ocracoke Island, a lighthouse is erected, exhibiting a revolving light, which you leave on your starboard hand entering the inlet. The time of each revolution is two minutes. It is elevated 75 feet above the water."

Lou Ann had never heard that the Ocracoke beacon was once a revolving light. Nor had I.

A few minutes on the Internet yielded this information from "Bulletins and Other State Intelligence for the Year 1854" published in the London Gazette in 1855:

"At the same time [December, 1853] the present revolving light at Ocracoke, about 23 1/2 nautical miles to the southward and westward of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, will be changed to a --
Fixed White Light,
with a focal plane 75 feet above the level of the sea....

By order of the Lighthouse Board,

Treasury Department,
Office Lighthouse Board,
December 1, 1853"

As they say, you can learn something new every day. 

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is an account of the recent skirmishes islanders have had with North Carolina legislatures over the issue of ferry tolls...and a 1955 newspaper editorial advocating free, state-operated ferries across Hatteras Inlet. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous8:16 AM

    Bravo for Lou Ann!! Perhaps Ms. H would share her reading list of materials she used to prepare for her volunteering. I find it odd that there is not a packet of material to study, prepared by those lighthouse keeper folk for whom she volunteers! BTW are there any reasonable explanations for nautical terms ?? for example starboard, posh, stern, lee oh this landlubber could go on but as mystical and lyrical as they sound; the origins, if known...Thank you very much

    1. The National Park Service provides information about the lighthouse, but Lou Ann and I also rely on other publications and books, as well as Internet sources and oral histories from native islanders.

      Wikipedia has long list of nautical terms:

  2. Anonymous10:04 AM

    Given the lighthouse went in to operation in 1823, what was the mechanism involved that allowed the light to "revolve" for 30 years (1823-1853), since this was prior to electricity? I'm guessing some sort of a weighted chain, similar to a grandfather clock?

    1. My guess is like yours. I think the Cape Hatteras light employs weighted chains. If I remember correctly, the mechanism rotates a shield, not the light itself.

      The original spiral staircase in the Ocracoke lighthouse was attached to the wall. That left an open column down the center of the tower. A new metal staircase with a center pole was installed in the mid 1950s.

  3. Anonymous3:34 PM


    Greatly appreciated your hospitality during your chat aboard the Wilma Lee today, and especially the opportunity to finally shake hands and say hello in person after so many years of "grilling" you about Ocracoke in this forum.

    Per your past guidance here, we enjoyed fig jam from Ms. Gaskill and terrific shrimp and scallops from James Barrie this week. (Was intrigued to learn from our visit to the OPS that he apparently was a former member of O'coke's long-ago mounted Boy Scout troop, unless that was another James Barrie.)

    You're a TERRIFIC ambassador for the island. Please keep up the great work. Hope you enjoy the Burke thesis when it arrives. And (as always) it's my great pleasure spending time in your company--online and in person.