North Carolina’s seven lighthouses that once protected sailors from the dangerous coastline now serve as landmarks and destinations for residents and visitors.
Aug. 7 is National Lighthouse Day, and on this day in 1789, Congress approved an act to establish and support lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers. In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the act and the commissioning of the first federal lighthouse, Congress designated the day in 1989 for that year, according to the American Lighthouse Foundation.
North Carolina’s seven coastal lighthouses are:
▪ Currituck Beach Light Station:
In Corolla, the Currituck Beach Light Station opened in 1875. Constructed with about 1 million red bricks, the lighthouse’s exterior differs from the more common black and white color scheme of the south. The lighthouse is still active, and visitors can climb its 214 steps from Easter to Thanksgiving each year.
▪ Bodie Island Lighthouse: At the entrance to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced “body”). Today’s structure is actually the third lighthouse to stand on the site. Bodie Island Lighthouse opened for public tours in April 2013 following a three-year restoration. Visit daily the third Friday in April through Columbus Day.
▪ Cape Hatteras Lighthouse:
Buxton, farther south along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, is home to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. As the nation’s tallest and most recognizable lighthouse, it is commonly referred to as “America’s Lighthouse” and was completed in 1870. Open to the public from mid-April through Columbus Day, visitors can climb the 257 stairs or at nightfall, see the light that still shines for 20 miles.
▪ Ocracoke Lighthouse: To reach the oldest still-operating lighthouse in North Carolina, visitors can take a free ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island. The whitewashed lighthouse is one of the nation’s five oldest still-active facilities. Visitors cannot climb the stairs to the top, but the view from the base alone might be worth the trip. The surrounding village is steeped in history, only accessible by water or air and was once a safe haven for the infamous pirate Blackbeard.
▪ Cape Lookout:
This lighthouse is most recognized for its large black and white diamond design. Originally rejected by 19th century mariners, her structure was later used as the model for future Outer Banks lighthouses. Cape Lookout is the southernmost lighthouse on the Crystal Coast along the Outer Banks and is only accessible by private ferry. Visitors can climb the 216 steps to the lantern room from mid-May through mid-September each year.
▪ Oak Island Lighthouse: Travel south of the Outer Banks to the Brunswick County beaches and you can cross onto Oak Island to see the Oak Island Lighthouse. With a light that can be seen for 24 miles, this lighthouse is one of the world’s most powerful. The area is open to the public, and if visitors call two weeks in advance, they can arrange to climb the 134 steps to the top.
▪ Old Baldy: Both Old Baldy and its home, Bald Head Island, are visible from Oak Island. Return to the mainland and head to Southport where you can take the ferry to Bald Head Island. Similar to Ocracoke, Bald Head is only accessible by water or air. Old Baldy’s appearance is a result of decades of patchwork repair and its 141 years of service. Visitors can climb to the top of its 108 steps to take in the view and explore the restored keeper’s cottage on the property.
For more information on National Lighthouse Day, go to www.lighthousefoundation.org/national-lighthouse-day.
For more information on North Carolina’s coastal lighthouses, go to www.visitnc.com/story/coastal-lighthouses.