The second annual Spring Retreat conducted by the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society (OBLHS) was held on April 29-May 1 in the small community of Southport, North Carolina. Event planners diligently worked to make the event as successful as the first. Visits to the Oak Island and Bald Head Island lights, a walking tour of Southport, and dinner at the Oak Island Life-Saving Station were just some of the major events during the retreat.
There was one more event that no one dared miss: a rare visit to the usually inaccessible Price’s Creek (front range) Light. The brick lighthouse was built in 1849 and was active only until 1861. It was used as a signal tower by Confederate troops during the Civil War. There’s been talk of moving the tower to a more accessible location, but so far, there’s no preservation plan in place.
Event planners and city officials were able to get permission from the lighthouse’s owner, Archer-Daniels, for the OBLHS to visit the lighthouse, which stands on its property at the west side of the Cape Fear River. Although permission was granted and a boat was obtained to take the group to the light, the weather wasn’t too cooperative.
The morning began with a short meeting and a tour to the Southport Maritime Museum. Then the group was treated to a walking tour of Southport. After the walking tour ended at 12:30 p.m., it was announced that the Price’s Creek Lighthouse tour would take place that afternoon at 2:00 p.m. With great enthusiasm, we quickly registered for the event and proceeded to eat lunch before meeting with the group at the boat landing.
Once at the boat landing, my girlfriend Christina and I boarded the boat along with the other members of the group as Bob, the boat captain, greeted us. When everyone was on board, we departed and headed to the lighthouse. After a ten-minute ride up the river, we found ourselves just offshore in front of the lighthouse. Our captain eased the boat to the beach and we all disembarked, jumping off onto the sandy shore. Larry Pace was our tour guide during our time at the lighthouse and we followed him a few feet down the beach. As Larry outlined the area where we were allowed to explore, the boat departed to pick up the next group.
The path to the lighthouse took us through a mucky tidal area, left behind by the outgoing tide. As we walked through the waist-high marsh grasses, each step sent fiddler
crabs scurrying, as they were trying not to be stepped on as we hiked the few hundred feet towards the light.
Our first objective was to check out the inside of the tower. As we walked around to the entrance, we were not surprised to find that the door was missing. Stepping up inside the lighthouse, we realized that a new set
of stairs had recently been installed into
the tower. Someone commented that the stairs may have been built for our visit, but a few places on the stairs showed minor signs of exposure to the rain, indicating that
the stairway had been there longer than initially thought.
We then took a close look at the floor in the tower, and it was evident that all the brickwork was not original. It was noticeable that a type of mortar different from the mortar was used in the original constuction. The window on the south side of the tower was missing, and the wooden framing was in terrible condition due to weather exposure. We also noted that the interior bricks at the bottom of the window had rounded edges as if the corners had been rounded off.
We then began climbing the 13 steps and came to the window on the north side of the tower. The window was in the same condition as the other one, yet, the interior bricks at the bottom of the window still had more of a rectangular shape, unlike the rounded off bricks in the other window. As we climbed to the top of the stairway, we came to the wooden landing at the top of the 20-foot tower.
Standing on the landing, you could reach up and grab the rebar that was added when the concrete cap was installed onto the light, closing off the entrance into the lantern room that no longer exists. Near the wood planking that made up the landing was an interesting section in the brickwork. There were four vertical openings, indicating that at one time, it may have been used to vent air into the lantern room and the tower. The openings were now sealed, probably an attempt at some point to keep moisture out of the tower. A final noteworthy observation was that there was a good amount of mold growing in the upper part of the tower, yet the 1840s brickwork seemed to be holding its own against the elements.
After taking all the photos that we wanted, we descended the stairway to make room for the others and headed back outside where Larry was answering questions about the light and giving a brief account of its history. One of the interesting things we learned was that the pole was so prominently protruding from the top of the tower that once held and supported the lens.
After all the questions were answered, we took a number of photos of the exterior before we headed back to the beach where the next group disembarked from the boat. We were supposedly getting back to the boat but we decided to stay a little longer and take the next boat back with the group that just arrived. As we stayed over on the beach area, we took a number of photos of the new group enjoying the experience of visiting the lighthouse. When the boat arrived again with the third group, it was our time to leave. We boarded the boat and were set to take off. But our captain had gotten the boat too far up on the beach and was having trouble getting it back out on the water. A few of us got back off the boat and helped push the boat back out on the water and then boarded again.
As we made the trip back to the boat landing, we talked about the lighthouse and the exciting experiences we had to be a part of the first group who were granted permission to visit. Most of what we had read about the lighthouse referred to it as “ruins,” which in my opinion is not the case.
At the landing, after we disembarked from the boat, we thanked and showed our appreciation to our captain for the safe and enjoyable ride to the lighthouse. Then, we went to prepare for the next event on the retreat schedule.
Stephen Wilmoth is the Web-
master of “The Beach Bum’s Site” at www.beachbum.homestead.com, which has lots of information on lighthouses, lightships, and lifesaving stations.
This story appeared in the
July 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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