It was another typical windy day on the Outer Banks, when I arrived to cover , what is no-doubt, truly one of the most monumental events in lighthouse history, the moving of America's tallest beacon, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It had already moved more than half way to its new location by the time I arrived in North Carolina and it was now well out of harm's way for what experts say is another two more centuries.
As I approached the main construction entrance, (wearing my International Chimney hard hat, which would get me past security and into the move area), I recalled the years of debate and controversy that proceeded this move. There were many, mostly locals that wanted the lighthouse kept right where it was for a number of reasons. Some thought that it would lose its historical significance if moved, which was pure nonsense since lots of lighthouses have been moved and none of them have lost any historical significance. Others said the lighthouse would fall or be damaged in the move, which was highly improbable according to all the scientific studies as well as the impressive record of International Chimney Corporation and Expert House Movers previous work in the moving of other lighthouses and historic buildings. If given the job, these people could easily move the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty.
Others wanted additional groins built in the ocean to stop the erosion, something that is against North Carolina law, and hasn't worked in the past. Personally, I think these were self centering interests that were more concerned about slowing down the process of stopping the erosion and saving their expensive shorefront property for another few years. And then there were those that claimed the tourist industry would be hurt, because nobody would want to see a lighthouse that was moved.
Anyway, back to the hard hat I was wearing, it was given to me about six years back, by Rick Lohr, President of International Chimney, when I covered the historic move of Rhode Island's Southeast Light on Block Island. I had put it away in storage for future display in the lighthouse exhibit/museum we plan to have in Wells, Maine.
Almost as soon as I got through security, I was fortunate to meet up with John Mayne. He's the person that drives the lighthouse. Actually, he makes sure that it stays on course, making a straight line down the 2,900-foot roadway to its new home. John gave me a brief tour of the site. But my biggest thrill was going underneath the tower while it was actually moving, a memory I will never forget. Plus, I got a few good photos for posterity!
As the tower moves over the rails (lubricated with nothing less than Ivory soap), you can almost hear the sighs of relief from the 129-year old tower. I could almost sense that this monument to America's maritime history knew, that after years of saving lives, we were now saving it.
The move itself resembled a well choreographed dance. Every single person on that work site knew precisely when and where to be and what task needed to be done next. It was a remarkable sight, watching all the workers moving this huge 4,800 ton structure through the sand. You could see it was truly a labor of love. But it was also fun. The workers were enjoying working on the move as much as the thousands who had flocked to watch the move. Plus they had some perks, like souvenirs. Workers placed quarters under the steel rollers as the lighthouse inched along and then retrieved them afterwards. The coins were smashed into a huge oval, a neat memento of the occasion.
As I rode around the site with Joe Jakubik, the chief choreographer, I got to realize how really big this project was, this saving of a symbol, not just of maritime history, but a symbol of architectural ingenuity, a symbol of hope, a symbol of people's fortitude.
Mike Landen, an employee of Expert House Movers, said it best to a reporter of the News and Observer Newspaper of Raleigh, NC, "This is the big one; this is the jewel in the crown."
It was just six years ago that International Chimney and Expert House Movers moved the Southeast Block Island, RI Lighthouse a mere 245 feet back from the eroding bluffs. Since that time they have been involved in the moving and renovation of several lighthouses, such as the Cape Cod's Highland Light and Nauset Light. But not since the Block Island Lighthouse has any move been so intense. The Block Island Light was moved by 4 hydraulic jacks only 245 feet, but it included two sharp turns to get it to its present location. The Hatteras Light was moved by 5 hydraulic jacks. These jacks were quite unlike the earlier moves, in that they also have hydraulic clamps. This enabled the move to go much quicker than ever anticipated. Previously, the jacks had to be clamped on by hand. Now, the clamps being hydraulic, were moved up almost instantly, making moving a total of 300 feet in one day much easier to accomplish.
The rapid move also made for more exciting viewing from the sidelines, although the movement itself was not heart-pounding excitement. One needed to pick out a spot a few feet in front of the lighthouse such as a tree, or piece of equipment, and while standing in the same place, watch for the movement passing that fixed spot.
As I watched the move in progress, my mind drifted to all the types of emails and letters we had received prior to the move asking about the move, many humorous: How it was going to be moved; by helicopter - by flat-bed truck - by crane - by disassembling it and putting it back together. What happens if it falls over? - Will it crack? - Will bricks fall off? - Will it stay lighted during the move?- Will tourists be able to climb the tower and watch the move from the lantern room during the move? - Can we get married in the lantern room while the tower is moving? - Will it be on TV? - Will it be painted different when the move is over? - Since I couldn't make it to see the move, when and where is the next lighthouse that's going to be moved? We answered each and every email. And then I recalled those who claimed it would hurt the tourism industry, After all, more than a million people a year visit the lighthouse. All one needs to do is drive around the Outer Banks, and you can see that tourism is as big as ever, especially the ingenious that have come up with "I saw the lighthouse move" T-shirts, magnets, coffee mugs and other types of souvenirs. I'll bet they're making as much, if not more by capitalizing on the move.
History happened as Cape Hatteras Lighthouse reached its new home at 1:22pm on Friday, July 9, 1999. Joe Jakubic breathed a sigh of relief, telling me to "Cross it off the endangered list!" (referring of course to the Lighthouse Digest "Doomsday List" of endangered lighthouses). To which I replied, "Consider it done, it's off." Jakubic went on to say that although he's happy to know that the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is finally off the "Top Ten List" he would like to see the rest of the list eliminated entirely. Who knows, perhaps, with the help of people like International Chimney and Expert House Movers and countless others who made this move possible, that list may someday be gone forever. But for now, America's most widely known beacon, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, has been saved for future generations to enjoy, well into the new millennium.
The Move: Day by Day
June 13 First two of seven roll beams were placed underneath the lighthouse.
June 16 Final roll beams installed under the lighthouse.
June 17, 3:05PM A monumental day in lighthouse history. Lighthouse moved 4 inches to the southwest, beginning its 2,900 foot journey to its new home. Later workmen moved the light an additional 9 feet, 8" for a total of 10 feet in the first day.
June 18 Lighthouse moved 71 feet - It is now believed that the move will be much faster than previously expected.
June 19 Lighthouse moved 19 feet.
June 20 Lighthouse moved 24 feet.
June 21 Lighthouse moved 57 feet.
June 22 Lighthouse moved 136 feet.
June 23 Lighthouse moved 135 feet.
June 24 Work crew encounters some problems adjusting the butting ends of the roll beam so that they roll together. Problem fixed. Lighthouse moved 219 feet.
June 25 The lighthouse is moved 223 feet bringing a total movement to 894 feet. This stage completes the first transport phase and takes the lighthouse out of any danger it might have faced due to a significant weather event that might have caused ocean over-wash and erosion, undermining the move corridor. The lighthouse is now standing on the site of a former four way intersection.
June 26 Crowd to watch the move is larger than average. Weather hot and humid. Lighthouse moved 175 feet.
June 27 Another hot and muggy day. Lighthouse moves 108 feet for a total of 1,177 feet.
June 28 Workers climb to the top of the tower to check things out and say view from this location is spectacular. Lighthouse moved 98 feet for the total so far 1,275 feet.
June 29 The biggest day so far! The lighthouse was moved an amazing 289 feet, bring the total to 1564 feet. This is past the halfway point of 1,450 which was passed earlier in the day.
June 30 Lighthouse is moved 204 feet for a total of 1,768 feet to date.
July 1 Another good day, the lighthouse is moved an amazing 355 feet for a total of 2123 feet. Crowds up to 15,000 people per day, with weekend crowds expected to soar above 20,000.
July 2 Lighthouse moves 122 feet, for a total of 2,245.
July 3 A short work day, lighthouse only moved 25 feet today.
July 4 Independence Day - In honor of this important day in history no work was done.
July 5 Workers start at sunrise and work until 9pm. Lighthouse moves 252 feet for a total now of 2,522 feet. The center of the new foundation is now 400 feet away. The step-mats are already being placed in anticipation of the lighthouse's arrival. The step-down procedure will take nearly 4 days and cover about 50 feet.
July 6 Weather is extremely hot. It was claimed that a National Park Service photographer fried an egg on one of the beams. The lighthouse is moved 22 feet today, bringing the total moved since June 17th, to 2,744 feet.
July 7 A short move today, only 77 feet, only 79 feet left to go to ground zero, approximately 65 of which will be on roll beams supported by cribbing towers.
July 8 Workers prepare to put lighthouse over its new foundation.
July 9, 1:22PM A monumental day in lighthouse history! Construction sirens blared and the thousands of onlookers cheered as the lighthouse was pushed the final few feet to its new home.
Relocating the Cape Hatteras Light Station to Safety
This new book by Cheryl Shelton-Roberts and Bruce Roberts captures how and why the lighthouse is being moved. Within its 19 pages, you will learn of the earlier methods of erosion prevention being used and a brief history. This is a limited edition.
This story appeared in the
August 1999 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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