Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ocracoke's First Lighthouse

Although Ocracoke boasts the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina the present day lighthouse is the second beacon erected to protect shipping in the area. In 1798 a 55' tall wooden pyramid-shaped tower, covered with shingles, was built on "Shell Castle Rock," a 25 acre island of oyster shells just inside Ocracoke Inlet (at the time this was considered the "harbor of Ocracock" since "Cockle Creek" [later renamed "Silver Lake" after it was dredged] was merely a wide, shallow tidal creek).

On Shell Castle Rock John Blount & his partner John Wallace operated a shipping business that included wharves, warehouses, a store & tavern, and a wind-powered grist mill. Legislation establishing the lighthouse prohibited goods to be stored, a tavern to be kept, or merchandise to be sold anywhere on the land set aside for the lighthouse. In addition, no one was to reside there, and the lighthouse was not to be used to "make a stand from which [anyone] may either pilot or lighter vessels." In other words, the lighthouse was an aid erected for the public good and shipping in general. No individuals were to personally benefit from the lighthouse at the expense of others.

The channel soon shifted, making the lighthouse ineffective. It was struck by lightning on August 16, 1818 and completely destroyed. Our current lighthouse was built on Ocracoke Island five years later.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the 1913 wreck of the 6-masted schooner, George W. Wells. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news072110.htm.

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