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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Before Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built. Even the most well-traveled seafarer would fear a voyage through the Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks are barrier islands located 24 miles off the mainland. These natural landmarks separate the Atlantic Ocean from the coastline. Here cooler ocean tides converge with warm gulf stream currents. These conditions brew powerful storms and create shifting sandbars. Hundreds of ships sank in the Outer Banks, which earned its nickname. The “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

Cape Hatteras Light is the tallest brick lighthouse structure in the United States. It was built to protect ships traveling the Outer Banks. Cape Hatteras offers an incredible historical and sightseeing experience. Making it a must-see destination on your next trip to North Carolina.

HISTORY

Lighthouse Commissioning

While Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton recommended building Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Years prior, he was a passenger on a ship that almost crashed on the Cape Hatteras Coast. Congress recognized the dangers of the Outer Banks. And approved funding for the lighthouse in 1794.  Soon after, it became clear that the lighthouse in its current form was inadequate. The grey paint and weak oil lamps of the lighthouse were difficult to view from the sea. Cape Hatteras underwent its first renovation in 1854.

Despite these new improvements, the lighthouse fell into a state of disarray. Congress determined it would be cheaper to rebuild Cape Hatteras than to repair it. A second installment of the light was rebuilt in 1870. This lighthouse tower was marked with the iconic black and white stripes seen today.

Keepers of the Light

Lighthouse keepers worked a solitary job. Yet their work was vital for the safety of seafaring captains and their crew. Keepers were responsible for performing,

  • Maintenance
  • Repairs
  • Administrative duties 

A principal keeper and two assistant keepers worked at the lighthouse. Each keeper's primary duty was a rotational four-hour night watch shift. They cleaned reflectors and clockwork apparatuses, performed general maintenance, and kept detailed records. Keepers and their families lived in off-sight housing. They were paid $800 per year with food, medicine, and housing provided by the Lighthouse Board.

Each man was also responsible for carrying fuel up 269 steps from the ground floor to the lantern room. 

  • The 1870 edition of Cape Hatters Lighthouse had a Fresnel lens powered by whale oil. At the time, whale oil was being phased out with alternative fuels due to the overhunting of the sperm whale. 
  • By 1880, kerosene replaced whale oil in powering the Cape Hatteras Light. In 1934, electric light was installed at Cape Hatters. 
  • Since 1950, the US Coast Guard has been keeping the lighthouse. The National Parks Service handles all repairs and preservation.

Moving the Light

For one hundred years, Cape Hatteras weathered the storms of the Atlantic. Waves washed over the island, carrying sand away from the shore in a process referred to as beach erosion. When reconstructed in 1870, the beacon was a safe 1,500 feet from the coastline. By 1970, it stood only a mere 120 feet from the shore. Leaving the beacon in its current location would have condemned it to destruction by the sea.

The National Parks Service began drafting a plan for moving the lighthouse in 1980. The debate took place amongst various stakeholders on how to move it without damage. Engineers began moving the structure in 1999. They lifted the building off its foundation and inserted hydraulic jacks underneath. The jacks lifted the lighthouse 6 ft off the ground. Engineers then inserted a rolling steel mat under the building. Using a structure on a system of rails and rollers, the lighthouse traveled a half-mile inland. On July 9th, 1999, the move of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was completed.

Visiting the Lighthouse

Join the approximately 500,000 people who visit Cape Hatteras Light each year. The Lighthouse is located at 46379 Lighthouse Road Buxton, North Carolina 27920

Between April and October, the lighthouse opens to climbers. Those who make it to the top enjoy breathtaking views of the Cape Hatters National Shoreline. Tickets are available on a first-come-first-serve basis at www.recreation.gov. Costs range from $10 for adults, and $5 for children, senior citizens, and the disabled. Please note that due to restoration. The lighthouse will be unavailable to climbers until August 2022. Until its reopening, the national parks service offers a virtual experience.

A museum and visitor center offers an educational experience for all ages. The Museum of the Sea is located inside the historic Double Keepers Quarters. The museum provides excellent exhibits on natural history. The Hatteras Island Visitor Center offers educational programs from park rangers. Programs run in the spring, summer, and fall. The center also includes orientation information and a park store.

After visiting the lighthouse, be sure to stop by the Cape Hatteras Oyster Company. Owned and operated by father and son duo Bill and Ryan Belter. A visit to the oyster company offers a unique opportunity. To witness the rapidly growing aquaculture industry. After spending a day in Baxton, be sure to grab a bite to eat at local restaurants! For visitors hungering for seafood, look no further than Diamond Shoals Restaurant! Fatty’s Treats and Tours offers mouthwatering American options in a laid-back atmosphere.

This place is for Publicity

This place is for Publicity

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