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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse History


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I’m taking a little respite from the genealogy article series and delving into one of North Carolina’s most iconic symbols, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. For those that don’t know the outer banks, the oceans in that area are known as the graveyard of the Atlantic. The shifting sand shoals are treacherous and unpredictable and the only constant is change. For that reason, as early as 1797 the United States Congress allocated $44,000 towards the construction of a lighthouse as they put it…

“for erecting a lighthouse on the head land of Cape Hatteras and a lighted beacon on Shell Castle Island, in the harbor of Ocracoke in the State of North Carolina.” This first lighthouse was completed one mile inland about 1802. It was 112 feet constructed of dark sandstone and visible for about 18 miles. It was considered the most important light along the coast, and the WORST. Improvements were made but in the late 1860s Congress allocated more funds ($167,000). When finished in 1871 it was the tallest brick lighthouse tower in the world. The light was 191 feet above sea level. In 1872 the old tower was demolished.

When it was completed the tower was about 1500 feet from the ocean, but on the Outer Banks, change is constant. By 1919 the water had encroached to within 300 feet of the tower. Attempts were made to arrest the progress of the sea, but by the mid 1930′s the ocean was within 100 feet of the tower. The tower was abandoned and turned over to the Parks Service.

In 1950 the lighthouse was reactivated as the problems with erosion seem to have stabilized and there wasn’t a great danger. For the next several decades there were several projects on and off again to protect the lighthouse from the encroachment of the sea. Finally, after much controversy the lighthouse was moved inland in 2000. Hopefully it will remain safe from the sea there for several generations.

These days, there is a webcam from the lighthouse tower. You can find more information at the National Park Service page dedicated to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. You might also be interested in The Outer Banks Internet News Service

There is a Cape Hatteras Keepers’ Descendants Society as well… Surnames of interest include: Farrow, Austin, Fulcher, Barnett(e), Gillikin, Rollinson, O’Neil, Jennett(e), Casey, Quidley, Williams, and Simpson.

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