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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Outer Banks, North Carolina

The black diagonal stripes of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse have set it off as one of the most popular lighthouses on the East Coast. Its history, and indeed, even its location, are far from ordinary, and probably not all that familiar to most.

Near Cape Hatteras, the warm northward flowing Gulfstream meets the usually colder Virginia Coastal Drift, which flows south. This forces vessels toward the shifting sands of the treacherous Diamond Shoals. Dubbed "The Graveyard of the Atlantic," aptly named, since the waters have swallowed over two thousand ships over a period of several centuries.

The first lighthouse was completed in 1803, and proved somewhat inadequate at a height of only 90 feet, and could barely be seen (if at all) from beyond the shoals. The tower was raised to 150 feet in 1852, and a first-order Fresnel lens was installed.

The Confederate Army was determined to destroy the light, and several battles ensued. The Confederates retreated in 1861, but managed to carry off the Fresnel lens. The light was turned on again the next year, but with a second-order lens. About a year later, that lens was replaced with a first-order lens. The tower received severe damage during the war, and it was decided that a replacement would be cheaper than restoration. The lens was removed and shipped to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in California, and a new tower was constructed about 600 feet to the north. This was completed in 1870.

This brick tower rises to a height of 208 feet, the tallest in the United States. Originally located safely about 1500 feet from the ocean, by 1935 the beach had eroded so much that the waters often swirled near the base. The lighthouse was abandoned and replaced with a makeshift lighthouse about a mile northwest. By 1950, the shoreline had once again increased and the light was returned to the tower. By 1987, however, it sat a mere 120 feet from the sea.

In 1999, the lighthouse was raised about six feet off its base and moved, along rails, to its present location, about a half mile inland from the previous location. Two keeper's quarters were relocated with it. It was relit on November 19, 1999.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is depicted both in pen and ink drawings, as well as a color photograph. The pen and ink was done before the structure was moved to its present location. The photograph shows it at its new site.

Directions: From Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head: Follow Route 12 south along Cape Hatteras National Seashore and follow the signs.


Learn more about Cape Hatteras Lighthouse by clicking on the link below.

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American Lighthouse Foundation
Monhegan Historical and Cultural Museum Association

Music is "Comfort," Original by Jalal Ali, used with permission. Visit his site by clicking on the link below.

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