Constructed in 1958, Oak Island Lighthouse is the second tallest concrete lighthouse in the U.S. and one of the last lighthouses built by the federal government. To the uninititated, it may look a bit like a smokestack, but the 155-foot tower at the western entrance to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina is an important navigational aid and a local icon. At a ceremony on October 18, 2004, it became the property of the Town of Caswell Beach. The Coast Guard will continue to maintain the active light – one of the most powerful in the world – and related equipment.
This transfer didn’t fall under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation ACT of 2000, since the tower isn’t old enough to be considered a historic lighthouse under the Act. In this case, the transfer came under the Federal Lands to Parks program of the National Park Service. Along with the lighthouse, the Town acquired 5.7 acres of property. The 5.3-acre parcel across the road from the lighthouse will be turned into a public park.
The U.S. Coast Guard station next door to the lighthouse was destroyed by fire on February 1, 2002. A new Coast Guard operations building on the site opened in July 2004. The personnel of the station, along with the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Blackberry, were the hosts for the ceremony. BMCS Newman Cantrell, the officer in charge of the station, served as master of ceremonies.
William Lane of the National Park Service and Coast Guard Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara, the Fifth District Commander, also took part in the event as the ceremonial key to the lighthouse was handed over to Caswell Beach Mayor Harry Simmons. Mayor Simmons
commented, “We are committed to managing the property profe-
ssionally and with sensitivity to the environment, the appropriate use of the property and the maritime
heritage it represents.”
Bill Brinkley, contractor, and Edwin Fielder, regional administrator of the General Services Administration, also addressed the assembled guests. Fielder spoke about how the transfer of lighthouses “returns American treasures to the community.”
In his keynote address, U.S. Congressman Mike McIntyre called Oak Island Lighthouse a “trusted treasure to mariners” and “a silent sentinel with subtle strength, a beam of safety, comfort and hope.” He
concluded his remarks by saying, “We have worked together to bring more light to our community.” Rep. McIntyre was an important catalyst in bringing about the transfer. The entire process took about three years.
Although it’s relatively new, Oak Island Lighthouse is not automated. The light is still switched on by Coast Guard personnel before sunset and switched off in the morning. The lighthouse’s base is firmly anchored 70 feet below the ground and they say this slender sentinel bends as much as three feet each way in high winds. It’s withstood plenty in nearly a half-century, and it was obviously built to last. There’s another big plus for the Town of Caswell Beach as it takes over maintenance of the lighthouse. It will never have to be painted, as the colors were mixed into the concrete when it was built.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2005 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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