The History of the OBX Lighthouses

Home owners and visitors alike, love our lighthouses. Once a necessity, now more a reminder of simpler times and our maritime history. If you have not climbed to the top then you are missing out. The views are incredible. It is certainly worth the effortBodie Light - history-of-OBX-lighthouses of the climb and fun for the whole family. So, while you are looking at real estate to purchase on the Outer Banks, take a detour and climb one or more of the lighthouses, to enjoy the birds eye view of the real estate displayed below.

Each lighthouse has a story and a history. We thought we would shed a little light (yes – we said that) on the history of the OBX lighthouses.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Though possibly not the most well-known, the Bodie Island Lighthouse has a very interesting past. The current building is actually the third structure built in the same general vicinity to light the waters around Bodie Island. It is situated just south of Nags Head and a few miles before the Oregon Inlet.

The first structure was built in 1847 and had an unstable foundation (after all it was 1847) and was abandoned about a decade later. The second one was built just prior to the start of the Civil War, but was blown up by Confederate soldiers to prevent the Union from using it as an observation post. Then, in 1872, the current structure was erected and has been improved over the years.

The locals say the island name gets its name from . all the “bodies” washed up on shore from shipwrecks through the channels. After all, the Graveyard of the Atlantic is just off shore. But the truth is that the family that owned the land was named Body. The folklore is a lot more interesting and gets people talking.

 

Currituck Light - history of OBX lighthouses

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

As the northernmost lighthouse along the OBX, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is situated in Corolla between the Cape Henry Lighthouse at the Chesapeake Bay and Bodie Island. These two lighthouses did not provide enough light and the channel between them was very dark causing a lot of problems. Ships simply disappeared in the night never to be seen again.

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is 162 feet high and can be seen from miles away. In fact, its light shines 18 nautical miles into the Atlantic. It is also the only lighthouse that is not painted and features the brick façade.

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is open to the public to climb the 214 steps to the outdoor gallery. This is due, in large part, to the generosity and hard work of the Outer Banks Conservationists as well as private donor funding. When deciding to climb this one, be sure to be in fairly good physical health. This one is a tough climb – but well worth it!

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is located – well – on Hatteras Island which is the southernmost barrier island of the Outer Banks. Probably the most recognized of all five lighthouses, it is most recently known for its big move that occurred in 1999. Over the years, the beach around it had begun to erode and it was inevitably going to crash into the sea. After many discussions, it was decided that it had to be moved.

Often referred to as the GravHatteras Light - history of OBX lighthouseseyard of the Atlantic, this dangerous part of the Atlantic is home to many shipwrecks including the USS Monitor which sank during the Civil War. The waters off Cape Hatteras are probably some of the most dangerous along the east coast as the Gulf Stream and Labrador currents converge and often create a huge commotion. Because of this, sandbars constantly shift making lighthouses imperative to light the channels along the Outer Banks.

Interestingly enough, the current lighthouse, built in 1870, is technically the second structure built. In 1802, the first one was built on the head of the island to light the dangerous shoals that extend out 10 nautical miles off the shore. The current lighthouse, built taller and brighter, still lights the waterways.

Visitors can climb to the lookout between mid-April and Columbus Day for a small fee. The view is amazing but it takes a whopping 248 steps to get up there.

Ocracoke Light - history of OBX lighthousesOcracoke Lighthouse

Known for being the oldest operating lighthouse, it was originally a 54-foot wooden tower located at the point of Ocracoke Inlet. As the inlet shifted with the tides, eventually, the original lighthouse did nothing and was rendered useless by 1818. Luckily, there was a bad storm that year and the lighthouse was struck by lightning and destroyed.

Today, the current lighthouse, built in 1823, is 75 feet tall and is different than the others in that it is a harbor light; which means it shines continuously with no blinking. Its light extends out 14 nautical miles.

A little trivia about the Ocracoke Lighthouse is that back in the day when the lighthouse keeper lived on the grounds, the house was large enough to house two keepers so this lighthouse had two people maintaining it. In addition to this all important job, they farmed the land, fished and hunted all around the property. Lighthouse Services provided the families with a travelling library of sorts where they got a shipment of books (cases of them), kept and read them for six months then sent them on to the next stop and got a new shipment.

While the public cannot climb to the lookout of the Ocracoke Lighthouse, they can visit the grounds to see the keeper’s house and more. It is a cool place to go and well worth a stop.

Roanoke Marshes Light - history of OBX lighthousesRoanoke Marshes Lighthouse

The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse has a lot of history and a really cool story. In 1877, it was a screw-pile lighthouse built out in the water at the southern entrance to Croatan Sound. A screw-pile lighthouse is one built on piles that are screwed into sandy and muddy sea or river bottoms. North Carolina had several screw-pile lighthouses along the channels centuries ago. In an attempt to move it years and years later, it was destroyed and ultimately, deactivated as a working lighthouse.

Today, a replica of the lighthouse itself is built out off a pier on the Manteo waterfront. It showcases displays and information about maritime history. For any history buff, especially with North Carolina Coast and ships, this is a intriguing place to visit. Plus it is a perfect place to stop when seeing the sites on Roanoke Island. It is definitely worth the trip.

When visiting the Outer Banks to purchase real estate, take the time to check out the lighthouses. If you are purchasing a vacation rental property, proximity to one of the lighthouses is sure to draw traffic to your property. Everyone loves the history of the lighthouses.

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