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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Information about Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Outer Banks, North CarolinaCape Hatteras Light is a lighthouse located on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina near the community of Buxton, and is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
The Outer Banks are a group of islands on the North Carolina coast that separate the Atlantic Ocean from the coastal sounds and inlets. Atlantic currents in this area made for excellent travel for ships, except in the area of Diamond Shoals, just offshore at Cape Hatteras. Nearby, the warm Gulf Stream ocean current collides with the colder Labrador Current, creating ideal conditions for powerful ocean storms and sea swells. The large number of ships that ran aground because of these shifting sandbars, including the Civil War ironclad warship USS Monitor, gave this area the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” It also led Congress to authorize the construction of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse which is recognized by the National Park Service as the tallest lighthouse in America.
The lighthouse is one of several on the North Carolina coast that are still operational including the Currituck, Bodie Island, Ocracoke, Cape Lookout, and Oak Island lighthouses.
Original lighthouseOn Jul. 10, 1797 (220 years ago), Congress appropriated $44,000 "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." The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse cost $14,302 to build and the Shell Castle Island Lighthouse was built from part of the surplus. Both were completed in 1803 (214 years ago).
The Cape Hatteras Light marked very dangerous shoals which extend from the cape for a distance of 10 nautical miles (19 km). The original tower was built of dark sandstone and retained its natural color. The original light consisted of 18 lamps; with 14-inch (360 mm) reflectors, and was 112 feet (34 m) above sea level. It was visible in clear weather for a distance of 18 miles (29 km).
In Jul. 1851 (166 years ago), Lt. David D. Porter, USN, reported as follows:
“ "Hatteras light, the most important on our coast is, without doubt, the worst light in the world. Cape Hatteras is the point made by all vessels going to the south, and also coming from that direction; the current of the Gulf Stream runs so close to the outer point of the shoals that vessels double as close round the breakers as possible, to avoid its influence. The only guide they have is the light, to tell them when up with the shoals; but I have always had so little confidence in it, that I have been guided by the lead, without the use of which, in fact, no vessel should pass Hatteras. The first nine trips I made I never saw Hatteras light at all, though frequently passing in sight of the breakers, and when I did see it, I could not tell it from a steamer’s light, excepting that the steamer’s lights are much brighter. It has improved much latterly, but is still a wretched light. It is all important that Hatteras should be provided with a revolving light of great intensity, and that the light be raised 15 feet (4.6 m) higher than at present. Twenty-four steamship’s lights, of great brilliancy, pass this point in one month, nearly at the rate of one every night (they all pass at night) and it can be seen how easily a vessel may be deceived by taking a steamer’s light for a light on shore." ”
The improvement in the light referred to had begun in 1845 (172 years ago) when the reflectors were changed from 14 to 15-inch (380 mm). In 1848 (169 years ago) the 18 lamps were changed to 15 lamps with 21-inch (530 mm) reflectors and the light had become visible in clear weather at a distance of 20 miles (32 km). In 1854 (163 years ago) a first-order Fresnel lens with flashing white light was substituted for the old reflecting apparatus, and the tower was raised to 150 feet (46 m).
In 1860 (157 years ago) the Lighthouse Board reported that Cape Hatteras Lighthouse required protection, due to the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1862 (155 years ago) the Board reported "Cape Hatteras, lens and lantern destroyed, light reexhibited."
Second lighthouseAt the behest of mariners and officers of the U.S. Navy, Congress appropriated $80,000 to the United States Lighthouse Board to construct a new beacon at Cape Hatteras in 1868 (149 years ago). The Light-House Board was a federal agency under the direction of the Treasury Department but was headed by a multi-agency committee. The Board consisted of two Army Engineers, two Navy officers, two civilian scientists, and one additional officer from both the Army and Navy to serve as secretaries. Congress established the Board in 1852 (165 years ago) for the purpose of creating a unified, continuous system of navigational aides along the coasts. Prior to 1852 (165 years ago), lighthouse construction generally rested with local authorities, ultimately leading to a disjointed, ineffective national system. Under the Light-House Board, Navy officers determined where new lighthouses were needed; Army Engineers selected exact locations, designed, and built them; and civilian scientists developed new technologies and techniques for displaying bright, consistent beacons.
Completed in just under two years under the direction of brevet Brigadier General J. H. Simpson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the new Cape Hatteras lighthouse cost $167,000. The new tower, from which the first-order light was first exhibited dec. 16, 1871 (146 years ago), was the highest brick lighthouse tower in the world. It was 193 feet (59 m) above ground and the focal height of the light was 191 feet (58 m) above water. The old tower "being no longer of any use and in danger of falling during some heavy storm" was demolished in Feb. 1872 (145 years ago).
In the spring of 1879 (138 years ago) the tower was struck by lightning. Cracks subsequently appeared in the masonry walls, which was remedied by placing a metal rod to connect the iron work of the tower with an iron disk sunk in the ground. In 1912 (105 years ago) the candlepower of the light was increased from 27,000 to 80,000.
Ever since the completion of the new tower in 1870 (147 years ago), there had begun a very gradual encroachment of the sea upon the beach. This did not become serious, however, until 1919 (98 years ago), when the high water line had advanced to about 300 feet (91 m) from the base of the tower. Since that time the surf had gnawed steadily toward the base of the tower until 1935 (82 years ago), when the site was finally reached by the surf. Several attempts were made to arrest this erosion, but dikes and breakwaters had been of no avail. In 1935 (82 years ago), therefore, the tower light was replaced by a light on a skeleton steel tower placed farther back from the sea on a sand dune, 166 feet (51 m) above the sea, and visible for 19 miles (31 km). The old tower was then abandoned to the custody of the National Park Service.
The Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration erected a series of wooden revetments which checked the wash that was carrying away the beach. In 1942 (75 years ago) the Coast Guard resumed its control over the tower, and manned it as a lookout station until 1945 (72 years ago). The old tower was now 500 to 900 feet (270 m) inland from the sea and again tenable as a site for the light, which was placed in commission Jan. 23, 1950 (67 years ago).
The new light consists of a 36-inch (0.91 m) aviation-type rotating beacon of 250,000 candlepower, visible 20 miles (32 km), and flashing white every 7.5 seconds. The skeleton steel tower was retained to guard against the time that the brick tower may again be endangered by erosion and thus require that the light again be moved.
The National Park Service acquired ownership of the lighthouse when it was abandoned in 1935 (82 years ago). In 1950 (67 years ago), when the structure was again found safe for use, new lighting equipment was installed. Now the Coast Guard owns and operates the navigational equipment, while the National Park Service maintains the tower as a historic structure. The Hatteras Island Visitor Center, formerly the Double Keepers Quarters located next to the lighthouse, elaborates on the Cape Hatteras story and man's lifestyle on the Outer Banks. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, tallest in the United States, stands 208 feet (63 m) from the bottom of the foundation to the peak of the roof. To reach the light, which shines 191 feet (58 m) above mean high water mark, a Coast Guardsman must climb 268 steps. The construction order of 1,250,000 bricks was used in construction of the lighthouse and principal keeper's quarters.
RelocationDue to erosion of the shore, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse was moved (by Expert House Movers) from its original location at the edge of the ocean to safer ground 2,870 feet (870 m) inland. The move was controversial at the time with speculation that the structure would not survive the move, resulting in lawsuits that were later dismissed. Despite some opposition, work progressed and the move was completed between 1999 (18 years ago) and 2000 (17 years ago) in a massive operation. Rededicated in 2000 (17 years ago), the lighthouse is fully open to the public at its new location further inland.
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