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The first Cape Hatteras lighthouse was built in 1803. The reason for the lighthouse being built was the offshore currents flow in opposite directions, which produce conditions that can cause fog and dangerous storms. This can also produce rough currents. These rough currents can cause shallow water where the sailors still think they are in deep water and that can cause the ship to wreck.

Plans to build a lighthouse on Cape Hatteras started as early as 1792. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the first lighthouse to be used as a warning light for sailors. The original design stood 90 feet tall and used whale oil lamps to light the tower. This system did not work because the lamps did not produce enough light and many ships almost ran ground because there was not enough light to discern water from land.

The lighthouse increased in height from 90 feet to 150 feet in 1854. A Fresnel lens was installed to make the light more intense. Rooms were added for the keepers of the lighthouse to stay in.

One big problem the lighthouse faced was the constant erosion of sand around the base of the lighthouse. The lighthouse was built on a sand dune that kept shrinking. The Light-House Board recommended that a new lighthouse be built following inspection of the structure after the Civil War.

In 1870, a new Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was constructed. The lighthouse was over 200 feet tall. It still stands as the world's tallest brick lighthouse.

Erosion still continued to be a problem around the base of the lighthouse. Salt water being pushed to the base instead of fresh water threatened to corrode the foundation of the lighthouse. From 1936 to 1950, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was not in use due to the problems with erosion. In 1989, the National Acadamy of Sciences recommended that the lighthouse be moved away from the ocean. In 1999, the lighthouse was moved 2900 feet southwest, which put the lighthouse 1600 feet away from the edge of the ocean. The lighthouse is now a National Historic Landmark.

To this day, the Cape Hatteras Light Station is still in use. It draws sightseers from all around the world. The lighthouse now has a steel-enforced brick foundation. The lens from the lighthouse built in 1854 can be found at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum located at the tip of Hattaras Island.

Directions to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse:

From Kitty Hawk, take NC 158 to NC 12 South to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore entrance. After you pass Bodie Island Lighthouse, which is about 10 miles south of the park entrance on NC 12, travel another 45 miles to the town of Buxton. Make a left into the entrance of the light station.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Facts:

  • There are various numbers assigned to the height of this lighthouse depending on the distance between the two points measured. The National Park Service reports the height as 210 feet to the top of the lightning rod.
  • Cape Hatteras lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the world.
  • The lighthouse was completed in 1870.
  • In 1870, with 24 panels in its 1st order Fresnel lens, the light turned at 1/4 RPM. Today, its modern aerobeacon emits the same flash characteristic with on3 2.5 second white flash every 7.5 seconds for for eight flashes per minute.
  • The flash reaches 19 nautical miles (one nautical mile equals 1.15 statue miles).
  • The last keeper was Unaka Jennette who closed the lighthouse due to erosion in 1936. The light was housed in a skeletal tower in Buxton Woods until the striped tower was relit in 1950.
  • There are 268 cast-iron steps that lead to the latern room.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Route 1, Box 675
Manteo, NC 27954

Phone: 252-473-2111

Terms: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Hatteras Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Light Station, NC Lighthouses

Information on Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

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