Oak Island Lighthouse
- Built in 1958
- It cost $110,000 to complete
- structure Height: 158 feet
- The lighthouse has 134 ‘ladder’ steps to the lantern gallery level
- Coast Survey Chart: 33.8939 N latitude, 78.0351 W longitude
- The beacon produces 2,500,000 candlepower and shines over 24 nautical miles during times of darkness
- Foundation is 67 ft deep into bedrock
- The concrete used during construction contains paint, so the structure will never need repainting.
- The lighthouse is still in service; kept up by a joint effort by Caswell Beach and the U.S. Coast Guard.
- The current Oak Island Lighthouse was preceded by two other structures
The history of the Oak Island Lighthouse
A hurricane, in September of 1761, carved a new inlet near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. This route would soon become the most popular route to North Carolina’s largest port in Wilmington. Originally there were two Oak Island lighthouses constructed in 1849. Due to the increased traffic in this new inlet, two range lights were built on Oak Island, located on the west side of the river mouth.
The front light was constructed of wood on top of a sixteen (16) foot high by fourteen (14) foot wide foundation. The rear light was constructed on skids. Its location often changed due to the constant shifting channel. They were lit on September 7, 1849. Originally the lighthouses were designed similar to the other Cape Fear River (Price Creek, Campbell Island and Ortons Point.) The difference was they usually had one tower built on top of the keepers house and a second light tower close by. Oak Island on the other hand had two individual brick towers with a separate 1.5 story keepers house. They were often referred to as the Caswell Lights because of their close proximity to Fort Caswell.Â These two lighthouses survived less than 20 years. These were badly damaged during the Civil War. In 1879. The two lighthouses were re-built. Then in 1893 another hurricane damaged the front beacon and keeper’s house beyond repair. By this time the shipping routes had changed. This change caused a decrease of ships along that part of the Cape Fear River. The lights were not considered to be of much importance at that time and there were no plans to repair the two towers.
Though there had been less shipping traffic through the new inlet, mariners trying to navigate through Frying Pan Shoals needed a strong beacon to help navigate the river. Funding became available in the early 1900’s for a new light to be constructed, across the river, on Bald Head Island. This light was lit in 1903. It served its purpose well until a more accessible light was constructed on Oak Island. This is the current lighthouse that stands there today.
Construction of the present Oak Island Lighthouse was completed in 1958. It was one of the last lighthouses built along the United States coast. At that time, it was constructed, the total cost to construct it was $110,000.00. The structure is 158 feet tall and built on a small rise in the ground. The height of the light above sea level is actually 169 feet, as reported on nautical charts.
The tower is designed to be able to sway about 3″ per 100 mph winds. Its foundation is constructed of 24 concrete-filled steel pilings 10 3/4″ in diameter and 67′ in the ground, on bedrock. The pilings are capped by a 30 foot wide by 3 foot deep octagonal concrete base. The tower has an interior with a continuous diameter of 16 feet 4 3/4 inches and it’s wall is 8 inches thick. Unlike the spiral staircase as found in most lighthouses, the Oak Island lighthouse uses a series of ships ladders, to get from one level to the next. The ladders have a total of 134 steps, leading to the lantern gallery level.
To establish the exterior color for each section of the Oak Island Lighthouse, the concrete walls were permanently cast in its stripe pattern. The lower forty feet is a natural gray of Portland cement. The middle fifty feet was poured with a mix of white Portland cement and white quartz aggregate to obtain its white color. The top fifty-two feet were of gray Portland cement with black coloring. The smaller concrete section at the top, was constructed with stationary metal forms just after the top floor was poured. The windows at the top of the tower were constructed of stainless steel but sashes have been replaced with vinyl. It’s 11 foot tall aluminum lantern housing was installed by two Marine Corps helicopters, making the total height of the structure 153 feet above the foundation slab.
The lighthouse was activated in 1958 by carbon-arc mercury lamps used in 36-inch reflectors. These reflectors with their housings were modified aircraft spotlights used in World War II. When these lamps were in use, the Oak Island light was the brightest lighthouse in America and the second brightest in the world at that time. Presently it has a 4000 watt aerobeam light, it can be seen from 24 miles away. This is one of the most powerful lighthouses in the world with a 2,500,000 candlepower light. It was one of the last manually operated lighthouse in the world, switching on each evening, just before sunset, and switched off, just after sunrise. This is a thing of the past, because the light is now functional all day and all night.
The Oak Island light is located on federal property that has been in use as a US Coast Guard station since the 1930’s. Prior to this it was a Lifesaving Station. In 2004, the lighthouse and the surrounding property were transferred to the Town of Caswell Beach along with the adjacent beach front property. The Coast Guard has remained responsible for the upkeep of the lights. Caswell Beach as well as The Friends of Oak Island Lighthouse, a not-for-profit organization, now have the responsibility to protect, preservation, and maintain the Oak Island Lighthouse and grounds. In addition, the town has made additional parking available, as well as providing access to the lighthouse grounds and a boardwalk access to the beach with an observation deck.
Visitor Information Directions:
Tours are now available for the first and second level of the lighthouse. Please contact the Friends of the Oak Island Lighthouse for more information on times.
From the North: Take I-95 South to I-40 East. Exit Route 53 West to Route 421 South. Then US 17 to Route 133 South to Oak Island.
From the South: Take US 17 North to Route 211 South at Supply. Then Route 133 South to Oak Island.
The Coast Guard Station is at 300A Caswell Beach Road Oak Island, NC 28465. You can use this address on your GPS to also find the lighthouse.
The following link allows you to create a custom driving route to Oak Island Lighthouse
Map of Oak Island Lighthouse
For handicapped assistance please contact the Friends of Oak Island Lighthouse at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lighthouse Resources and Points of Interest
For information on Oak Island Lighthouse and surrounding area, contact US Coast Guard Station at Oak Island P.O. Box 1030 Long Beach, NC 28465 (910) 278-1133
Southport and Oak Island Chamber of Commerce 4841 Long Beach Road South East South Port, NC 28465 (910) 457-6964 or (800) 457-6964