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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse


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Quick Facts

  • First Cape Hatteras lighthouse was built in 1802 and lit in 1803
  • An addition was made, between 1845 and 1854, to add height to the structure
  • Present tower at Cape Hatteras was completed in 1870
  • It cost $150,000 to complete at that time
  • The current Cape Hatteras lighthouse is America’s tallest lighthouse at 198 feet high.
  • There are a total of 257 steps to the top
  • It took 1.25 million bricks to build the tower
  • Coast Survey Chart: 35° 15 ‘ 32 ” N latitude, 75°  31’ 44″ W longitude
  • Light is still operational day and night and visible for 20 mile.
  • Over 175,000 tourists visit the tower each year to climb the structure
  • Cape Hatteras is also the worlds tallest brick lighthouse – 208′ at top of iron lens housing. The world’s tallest lighthouse is metal. It is a 331 ft Marine Tower in Yokohama, Japan.

 


The history of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouses

Powered By SmugWPSince the 1800’s, a lighthouse at Cape Hatteras has marked the twelve-mile (12) long sandbar that lies just offshore, called Diamond Shoals.  Cape Hatteras sits on a narrow strip of sand on the eastern most point of the United States.

Diamond Shoals is the meeting place of two great ocean currents: the cold Labrador and the warm Northbound Gulf Stream. When these waters collide, it creates ever-changing sandbars just beneath the water surface. This has resulted in many shipwrecks over the years.  A lighthouse would have to be built that could shine far beyond the treacherous shoals, to give mariners a warning of these dangerous ever-changing waters.

In 1793, funds for the first lighthouse were released to construct the first lighthouse for Diamond Shoals. Due to bad weather and illness among the building crew, the structure wasn’t finished until 1802. After the structure was built, they had a difficult time finding a keeper that could take care of the lighthouse, so it was not lit until 1803. The original lighting system consisted of eighteen (18) oil lamps with fourteen (14) inch reflectors, and could be seen twelve (12) miles out to sea.  A keeper would need to stay there to make sure the lamps were constantly going and the reflectors stayed clean.

Shortly after construction was completed, it was realized that the light would not be able to reach the treacherous shoals. Between 1845 and 1854, a series of repairs, modifications, and additions were made to the octagonal tower. These additions brought the height of the structure to 150 feet. The original iron and glass lantern room was ten (10) feet height and ten (10) feet in diameter which was much too small. A larger lantern room was added to accommodate the eight by six-foot, 1st-order Fresnel lens that was installed in 1854.

After the new modifications were made, mariners and local residents began to complain about the lighthouse’s granite, sandstone and iron drab appearance. The lighthouse also experienced several problems itself. It had problems with birds flying into the lantern room and smashing the glass.  There were several fires due to keepers accidentally spilling lamp oil. Erosion was also a big problem as the shore in front of the lighthouse and the shoreline began to deteriorate. Many attempts were made to rectify these problems. The lighthouse was painted with the upper half in red and the lower half in white to help improve its appearance. The keeper’s quarters were rebuilt, and inefficient keepers were replaced. Piles of brush were stacked in front of the lighthouse to try to curb the erosion. A Lightship called the Diamond Shoals was stationed near the Hatteras Lighthouse, to help with the insufficient lighting issues. Unfortunately, the numerous modifications that were made to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse were not enough to adequately light the Cape. Nothing further was done until the Civil War.

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During the war, the lighthouse served as a lookout post. When the Confederates were driven back, the lighting system was removed so that the Union soldiers would not be able to use the lighthouse. This lighthouse was demolished in February of 1871, a few months after the new lighthouse was activated.

Work began, in 1868, on a new beacon and tower modeled after the light at Cape Lookout that would be located farther inland than the original lighthouse. This was done to protect the lighthouse from erosion that caused so many problems with the previous lighthouse. The new and current tower was an incredible 198 feet tall and needed a substantial foundation to support it.

When workers began digging into the sand, water began seeping into the hole once, they reached sea level. Chief Engineer Dexter Stetson chose pine timbers as the base of the foundation in hopes that they would not decay in the sea water. After the timbers were laid, a series of granite slabs were placed on top of the timbers to form the foundation. The last granite slab was placed at the ground level and the lighthouse was built on top. The octagonal base of brick and granite, measures twenty-four (24) feet by forty-five (45) feet six inches.  Despite outbreaks of malaria among the building crew and the loss of some construction materials in a shipwreck, work continued at a rapid pace, and the $150,000 tower, equipped with a 1st-order Fresnel lens, made it’s debut on December 1, 1870. The black and white barber-pole paint, or “candystriping” was added in 1873 to make the lighthouse more distinctive during the day. Today, the beacon is automated, but at the time it was built, the keeper had to wind weights suspended by heavy cables in order to rotate the thousand-prism lens.

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In the 1920s, erosion became a major problem to the new lighthouse. By 1936, the sea was lapping at the base of the tower, so the Coast Guard decided to build a frame tower farther inland, and to abandon the existing lighthouse. The light was moved to a steel skeletal structure erected one mile inland. On May 15, 1936, the last keeper of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Unaka B. Jennette, had the duty of shutting down the tower. He had served as the head keeper of the beacon since 1919 and had raised seven children during his service at the lighthouse. Efforts to preserve the lighthouse were put on hold until 1948 due to the War. The National Park Service leased the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to the Coast Guard so operations could resume. This resulted in that the light being moved from the steel tower back to the lighthouse, and has beamed its light from there ever since. The steel tower was dismantled at that time.

In the mid 1980s, heated discussions had begun over whether to move the lighthouse to a new location. Finally a decision was made to move the lighthouse to it’s new location. In the summer of 1999, the lighthouse was moved 2899.57 feet from its original location.

 

Visitor Information

You can climb Cape Hatteras Lighthouse for a fee.  It is definitely worth it to see the spectacular view from the top, but just be prepared for a workout because it can be quite exhausting to climb.  We recommend bringing water to stay hydrated and bug repellent because the mosquitoes are pretty bad during the hot months.  You can also access the beach the original site parking lot, so you might want to bring some beach towels and relax.

There is a visitors center, with a gift shop and restrooms located near the lighthouse. Since the lighthouse was recently moved, they have added additional parking, so you should not have a problem finding a spot.

Hours and Admission:

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Climbing hours will be 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. daily in the spring and fall; and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. May 27 through Labor Day, Monday, September 5. The lighthouse will remain open through Columbus Day, Monday, October 10.

Climbing tour tickets are $7 for adults and $3.50 for senior citizens (62 or older), children (12 and under, and at least 42″ tall), and those holding a National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Access Pass. Tickets are available on a first come/first served basis and can only be purchased in-person at the site the day of the climb. There are no advance ticket sales for regular climbing tours.

Ticket sales begin at 8:15 a.m. Climbing tours will begin at 9 a.m. and will run every 10 minutes with a limit of 30 visitors per tour. Ticket sales close at 4:30 p.m. in the spring and fall, and 5:30 p.m. June 8, 2008 through Labor Day. Ticket holders should arrive at the lighthouse gate five minutes prior to their ticketed tour time.

They will also offer night climbs every Thursday evening beginning Memorial Day through Labor Day and Full Moon Climbs April 17, May 17, June 15, July 15, August 13, and September 12.  Tickets for the Full Moon climb can be purchased 3 days in advance. Call the lighthouse at (252) 995-4474 for more information.

You can climb Cape Hatteras Lighthouse for a fee.  It is definitely worth it to see the spectacular view from the top, but just be prepared for a workout because it can be quite exhausting to climb.  We recommend bringing water to stay hydrated and bug repellent because the mosquitoes are pretty bad during the hot months.  You can also access the beach the original site parking lot, so you might want to bring some beach towels and relax.

There is a visitors center, with a gift shop and restrooms located near the lighthouse. Since the lighthouse was recently moved, they have added additional parking, so you should not have a problem finding a spot.

Directions:

Take NC 12 South from Nags Head until you reach Buxton. It is approximately 50 miles south of Nags Head. The entrance to the park will be on the left.

Contact (252) 473-2111 for more information

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

Driving directions to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Maps of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The map below shows the previous and current location of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Move

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Handicapped Access

The Hatteras Island Visitors Center is very easily accessible. A deck and wooden path has been added to the visitors center and lighthouse.

Lighthouse Resources and Points of Interest

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.

National Parks Service Cape Hatteras Lighthouse ( NPS ) 1849 C Street NW Washington, DC 20240 Phone: (202) 208-6843 The National Park Service is responsible for taking care of the buildings and grounds surrounding Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The US Coast Guard is responsible for the lighting mechanism and striped paint pattern.

Dare County Tourist Bureau P.O. Box 399 Manteo, NC 27954 1 (800) 446-6262 dctb-info@outer-banks.com

Dare County Tourist Bureau 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 or 101 Town Hall Drive Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948 (252) 441-8144 chamber@outer-banks.com