The Cape Lookout Light Station was built in 1812 to warn ships of shoaling sands. These particular shoals formed Lookout Shoals. These shoals posed a dangers to ships. The lighthouse stood 93 feet tall and used oil burning lamps as its source of light. The lamps had reflectors attached to them in order to get the light past the shoals so the ships could be warned of the danger. The lighting system turned out to be less than successful. The light did not travel across the shoals. The lack of light caused ships to run ground before seeing the warning light.
In 1854, Cape Lookout Lighthouse had a Fresnel lens ordered in an attempt to improve the lighting of the tower. The oil lamps were placed in the center of the prisms so the light could be magnified. It still did not work because the tower was too short and the sailors could not see the light in time to stop from running ground.
A new lighthouse was constructed at Cape Lookout in 1859. The new lighthouse was 163 feet tall and constructed with eight-feet-thick double brick walls.
In 1861, the Confederate Lighthouse Bureau assumed all control of the lighthouse during the Civil War and ordered all lights to be disassembled so they could not be used by the Northern forces. Union soldiers quickly assumed control of the coast and took control of the lighthouse in 1862. In 1864, the original tower was blown up by Confederate soldiers and it also caused damage to the new lighthouse. A new lens was ordered after the lens was destroyed by the explosion. After that point, the lighthouse stayed permanently lit.
A lightship was put near the lighthouse in 1903. The purpose was to warn sailors of the changing shoals. It was used until 1933, when electricity was put in the lighthouse. Cape Lookout was fully automated in 1950.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse continues to be used as an active navigation aid. The National Park assumed control of the lighthouse in 2003. An aerobeacon sends a white flash every 15 seconds The tower is closed to sightseers.
Directions to Cape Lookout Lighthouse:
From Morehead City follow U.S. 70 East through Beaufort to Otway. Turn towards Harkers Island and follow signs to Cape Lookout National Seashore headquarters. Passenger ferries provide service to the lighthouse located on Core Banks Island.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse Facts:
Cape Lookout National Seashore
- Two towers have been on this site: 1812 and 1859.
- The 1859 tower served as a successful architectural model with double-wall construction for other tall NC lighthouses.
- The existing keepers' quarters was built, mineral oil (kerosene) replaced the use of whale oil, and the tower received its black and white checkered pattern in 1873.
- Two women served as keepers: Charlotte Ann Mason Moore 1872-75 and Emily Julia Mason, principle keeper 1876-78.
- The National Park Service reported the focal plane at 150 feet with the tower height at 163 feet.
- The modern optic is an aerobeacon that gives one white flash every 15 seconds, reaching out 19 nautical miles.
131 Charles Street
Harkers Island, NC 28531