Digest>Archives> December 2003

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse History In Brief

By Cheryl Shelton-Roberts and Bruce Roberts


From Lighthouses of the North Carolina Coast by Cheryl Shelton-Roberts and Bruce Roberts by Our State Books to be published February 2004.

1794 Congress authorized construction of Cape Hatteras and Shell Castle Island Lighthouses

1797 Congress voted $38,500 for the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment to build Shell Castle Island and Cape Hatteras Lighthouses

1798 Henry Dearborn awarded contract to build Cape Hatteras and Shell Castle Island Lighthouses; four acres at Cape Hatteras purchased for $50 (it and Shell Castle Island Lights were being built simultaneously)

1802 Adam Gaskin appointed keeper of Cape Hatteras by President Jefferson

1803 Tower completed and put into service with whale-oil pan lamps

1809 Fire at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. All glass in lantern destroyed

1813-14 Argand lamps with mirror reflectors installed. 21 whale-oil burning lamps were mounted in three rows on iron chandelier replaced pan oil lamps

1824 Lightship for Cape Hatteras stationed 13 miles ESE of the lighthouse to mark Diamond Shoals for the first time

1825-27 Lightship broke anchor nearly two dozen times and was removed, ending early attempts to place a light near the outer Diamond Shoals

1828 Additional 40 acres for $200 purchased adjacent to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to expand the light station

1855 Hatteras Beacon Light established by the U.S. Light-House Board at Cape Point as a marker for ships that used Hatteras Inlet

1861 Confederates removed the large Fresnel lens making the light useless

1862 The lighthouse was back in Union hands; a smaller Fresnel lens was installed as a temporary light

1863 A first order Fresnel lens was restored in the tower by Union forces and the U.S. Light-House Board

1867 Funds allocated for a new lighthouse at Cape Hatteras

1870 (Dec. 16) New tower is completed and illuminated

1871 (Feb. 16) Old tower was demolished

1873 Daymark painted changing the tower’s appearance from a brick wash to its famous black and white spirals

1879 Lightning struck and caused vertical cracks in the inner wall

1880 Keepers received official U.S. Lighthouse Service uniforms

1891 Futile attempt was made to build a lighthouse on Diamond Shoals; caisson settled unevenly and bad weather caused abandonment of project

1897 Lightship #69 placed on Diamond Shoals. First lightship on shoals since 1827

1913 Changed illuminant from kerosene lamp to incandescent oil vapor lamp with a special mantel that created a brighter light

1930 Groins (900 ft.) installed to protect adjacent Navy installation; one worsened erosion problems on southwest side of the tower

1933 Back-to-back hurricanes forced abandonment of keepers’ homes

1934 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse electrified for the first time

1935 Land was purchased for a new tower site from Keeper Unaka Jennette; erosion forced the tower to be decommissioned

1936 The light was relocated to a new steel tower in Buxton Woods to do the job of the lighthouse

1942 The lighthouse is given to the Park Service by the U.S. Coast Guard that had assumed lighthouse responsibilities in 1939

1942 The lighthouse was turned over to Coast Guard for use as lookout station during WWII

1950 The 1870 tower was put back into service since erosion slowed. A modern electric beacon was installed by the Coast Guard to replace the original Fresnel lens. The tower was left unattended and it and the magnificent first order Fresnel lens were vandalized for years

1967 Coast Guard erected the Texas-oil-rig-style Diamond Shoals tower in 54 feet of water marking first successful attempt to place a lighthouse in the Graveyard of the Atlantic

1999 Lighthouse was relocated 2,900 feet to the southwest in what became known as “The Move of the Century”

2000 Lighthouse reopened for climbing, with visitation reaching over 250,000 per year

2001Over 1,100 keepers’ descendants gathered for a weekend event cosponsored by the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society (OBLHS) and the National Park Service (NPS) for the Hatteras Keepers Descendants Homecoming

2003 A celebration cosponsored by OBLHS and NPS to commemorate 200 years of light at Cape Hatteras. A time capsule is being assembled for burial early 2004

This story appeared in the December 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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