Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Original Lighthouses

Visitors to the Outer Banks may not realize that the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the picturesque Ocracoke Lighthouse are not the original beacons. 

On July 10, 1794, Congress appropriated $44,000 "for erecting a lighthouse on the head land of Cape Hatteras...." The original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was constructed in 1802. It was made of unpainted sandstone, and stood 112 feet above sea level.

Engraving in NC State Archives

In 1868 Congress appropriated $80,000 to build the current tower, which was lit in 1871. The new lighthouse, with its black and white candy-stripe pattern, stands 200 feet above the sea, and is the tallest brick lighthouse in the world. The original structure was demolished in 1872.

The 1794 legislation also called for "...a lighted beacon on Shell Castle Island, in the harbor of Ocracoke in the State of North Carolina."

Image from early 1800s Ceramic Pitcher

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. Ocracoke's current lighthouse was built in 1823, and is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about Old Christmas in Rodanthe. You can read it here:   


  1. Anonymous8:07 AM

    Is it not true that the Bald Head light was built in 1818? According to NCpedia- IMHO a bit confusing entry of facts and dates to get straight-- did state that the OI lighthouse is the oldest on the OBX, built in 1823, five years later then Bald Head. But the statement that prompted me to dig deeper into this subject was a "25 acre island mound of oyster shells" that seems rather large sitting in the middle of the inlet?? Is it still There? was the dredging an effort to reshape it --what happened to 25 acres of Oyster shells?? It is important to me to have a second credible source to verify information before I run with something. Having said that I now need to find another source to verify NCpedia's claim that Bald Head was built in 1818. BRB

    1. I have never seen the Bald Head Light, but I understand it ceased to function as a lighthouse in 1935. Ocracoke is the oldest operating lighthouse in NC.

      I don't think any of shell castle island is still above water. Storms and tides have eroded it away.

  2. Anonymous8:14 AM

    When will the Daffodils begin to bloom?

  3. Anonymous5:06 PM

    I'd like to see someone try dredging a creek and turn it into another silver lake...the EPA would have a stroke. There would have to be another ridiculous time & money wasting 23 year environmental know I am right. dredging on a scale like the original silver lake project would never happen. I think it all turned out pretty well. They probably just said - 'lets just do it.'


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