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Bodie “Body” Island Lighthouse

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Quick Facts

  • Popular folklore says that the island got its name because of the many bodies that were found around it, washed up from shipwrecks
  • The inside plaque reads “Body Island” – no one is certain on the spelling change
  • Bodie Lighthouse stands 156 feet tall
  • The height of each stripe is 22 feet
  • It has 214 stairs to the lantern
  • The beacon is visible up to 19 miles
  • It currently has One 1000 watt lightbulb activated by photocell
  • The land for Bodie Lighthouse cost $150 in 1846
  • The total cost of construction was $140,000
  • The first keeper of Bodie Island Lighthouse was paid an annual salary of $400.
  • The tower still houses a 1st-order Fresnel lens


The History of the Bodie Island Lighthouse

Powered By SmugWPThe brick lighthouse with alternating stripes of white and black that we see today is not the original lighthouse on Bodie Island. There were actually two lighthouses that came before it. Because Oregon Inlet continually shifts southward, the remains of the two original lighthouses have since been washed away.

The first lighthouse rested on fifteen acres of land that the federal government purchased for $150 in 1846. It was built in 1848 and stood only fifty-four (54) feet tall and measured seventeen (17) feet around the widest part oft its base. Close to the tower was a five-room house for the keeper, as well as a large brick cistern and two outbuildings. The original lighthouse was positioned just south of Oregon Inlet and was supposed to have a visibility of twelve miles. However, there were problems with the light from the beginning. Over $2,300 had to be allocated in addition to the $8,700 originally allocated, to install a lighting apparatus. The light consisted of a ten-foot lantern with fourteen (14) individual revolving lamps and parabolic reflectors. In addition to the lighting problems, structural shortcomings prevented the light mechanism from ever working properly. The poorly constructed foundation also started developing cracks and leaks. Eventually it settled off-center and began to sink. The decision was made to rebuild the lighthouse and not try to attempt repairing the original. You might ask why a tower could be built so poorly. At the time, the Fifth District Auditor of Treasury, the approver of all lighthouse expenditures, was Stephen Pleasonton. Auditor Pleasonton was very careful about spending money on lighthouse projects. First, he did not budget enough money for a proper foundation. Second, he was more concerned about saving money than understanding the technical aspects of lighthouses. The cheaper lighting system that was approved for the original Bodie light was inferior to the Fresnel system which was the premiere provider of beacon lenses.

Only eleven (11) years after the original Bodie Island Lighthouse was built, another tower was completed. At this time, Stephen Pleasonton was no longer Auditor, so the new lighthouse was designed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The new lighthouse was eighty (80) feet tall with white-washed brick. It was equipped with a 3rd-order Fresnel lens, which flashed every ninety (90) seconds and could be seen for fifteen (15) miles. Two years after the lighthouse went into service, the Civil War started. As the Confederates lost hold on the Outer Banks, they retreated. To prevent the Union soldiers from using the lighthouse to their advantage, the Confederates blew it up.

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Because of the islands location, another Bodie Island Lighthouse had to be built. In 1872, the federal government allotted $140,000 to build a lighthouse, keepers accommodations, and several outbuildings. The third and current lighthouse was constructed shortly after funds were allocated. It was supervised by Dexter Stetson, who supervised the construction of Cape Hatteras. He used many of the same construction techniques that made the Hatteras lighthouse so strong. The method of “Stacking” was used where timber pilings below the ground were placed and granite blocks were built above the base. After the construction of Hatteras, there were many unused materials. Many of these were used during the construction of Bodie Island Lighthouse. Bodie lighthouse is situated one half mile from the ocean just north of Oregon Inlet. It houses a 1st-order Fresnel lens, which can be seen for nineteen miles out. The 150-foot lighthouse was originally equipped with a fixed light illuminated by a vapor lamp. When electricity replaced oil in the early 1930’s, the steady beam was replaced by a flashing light. The shed that once held the kerosene oil was replaced by a generator, but it still has the smell of kerosene after all those years. In the 1950’s, the lighting system, was again replaced by a 160,000 candlepower beam.


Visitor Information

The Coast Guard has turned over the grounds and all buildings except the lighthouse to the National Park Service. The Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, erected in 1974, is now used by Park Service personnel serving this area of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  The lighthouse tower is not open to the public. You can visit the keepers duplex, which houses a small museum, gift shop, and restrooms.


Memorial Day to Labor Day:  9 AM to 6 PM

After Labor Day, the facility closes at 5 PM.


Bodie Island Lighthouse is located eight miles south of the US 158 and US 64 intersection, west of NC 12. As you are driving down to Bodie Island Lighthouse from the north, you will see thick vegetation on both sides of the road. Since it is a National Seashore, no structures are allowed to be built in the area, so it will be a nice peaceful and serene drive. You will see Bodie Lighthouse from a good distance away and you will be unable to tell which side of the road it is on because the road slowly winds from left to right. As you approach the entrance to the lighthouse, look for the entrance to the lighthouse on your right. The entrance will sneak up on you quickly, so be on the lookout for it. There is plenty of parking and it is usually not extremely crowded.

In addition to the lighthouse, there are also some hiking trails that are nearby. From what I understand, the trails are very extensive and cover a great distance. Depending on the time of year, you might want to consider bringing insect repellent if you plan on spending a lot of time at the lighthouse or on the trails. Most of the area around the lighthouse is marsh, so there are plenty of mosquitoes.

The following link allows you to create a custom driving route to Bodie Lighthouse using Google Maps

Driving directions to Bodie Lighthouse

Handicapped Access

There is a paved path to the visitors center and a sandy walkway leading to the sound side trail. The restrooms at the visitors center are also handicapped accessible. Lighthouse Resources and Points of Interest


Maps of Lighthouse and Surrounding Area



Lighthouse Resources and Points of Interest

For more information on Bodie Island Lighthouse and surrounding area, contact

Bodie Island Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters West of N.C. Highway 20 Bodie Island, NC Phone: (252) 441-5711

Bodie Island Lighthouse is part of the National Park Service.

National Parks Service Bodie Island Lighthouse Page (NPS) 1849 C Street NW Washington, DC 20240 Phone: (202) 208-6843 They are responsible for taking care of the buildings and grounds surrounding Bodie Island Lighthouse.

Dare County Tourist Bureau P.O. Box 399 Manteo, NC 27954 1 (800) 446-6262 dctb-info@outer-banks.com They can provide you with all sorts of information related to the northern portion of the Outer Banks.

Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce PO Box 1757 101 Town Hall Drive Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948 (252) 441-8144 chamber@outer-banks.com

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Hatteras Island Visitors Center Off NC 12 at Buxton, NC (252) 995-4474

The lighthouse is part of this 30,000-acre preserve. The area has a lot of beaches that are not crowded.
One beach that is very accessible is Coquina Beach which offers swimming, bathing, and picnic facilities, as well as the Laura A. Barnes shipwreck on display.

Wright Brothers Memorial US Highway 158, Mile Post 8 Kill Devil Hills, NC (252) 441-7430 caha_interpretation@nps.gov The site of the December 17, 1903 flight, taken at Kitty Hawk, made North Carolina the “First in Flight” state.

Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station P.O. Box 5 Rodanthe, NC 27968 (252) 987-1552 info@chicamacomico.org