Lighthouse Digest has once again added a famous American lighthouse to its Doomsday List of endangered lighthouses.
By Timothy Harrison
While the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has gotten all the attention and money in recent years, its nearby sister, the Bodie Island Light has waited patiently for its turn to be restored to its former grandeur and allow people to walk its 214 spiraling stairs to the top just as the keepers did from 1872-1940.
In fact, a large number of the people that visit the lighthouses of the Outer Banks like Bodie Island Lighthouse better than the magnificent Cape Hatteras lighthouse. One visitor said, “I’m not sure why I like this one better than Hatteras, maybe it’s the setting,” while another person said, “I think it looks more royal that Hatteras.”
Regardless, the fact remains that the Bodie Island Lighthouse is actually an endangered lighthouse, as was Cape Hatteras until recently. However, the situations are different, Cape Hatteras was threatened by erosion while Bodie’s enemy is simply old age.
According to an Outer Banks Lighthouse Society study done a number of years back, there were serious problems even then with the lantern room and gallery deck. In some places, the study said, the fixtures actually holding the deck in place are gone and are only being held in place by corrosion.
A report prepared by the National Park Service earlier this year stated that the tower is unsafe and unstable due to significant and extensive deterioration. The most critical areas are the ironwork, staircase, and the cracked or broken sections throughout the structure.
Cheryl Shelton-Roberts of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society said. “I am extremely concerned about the lighthouse because the ironwork is going to fail and endanger the original 1872 First Order Fresnel Lens. The longer we wait to do repairs, the more risk there is that the lens will have to be dismantled and removed during restoration work. This would benefit the lighthouse ONLY if the Fresnel lens could be restored simultaneously. Maybe I worry too much, but I’d hate to see the lens touched other than where it now resides.”
North Carolina State Senator Marc Basnight, who has worked closely with the Outer Banks Lighthouse Preservation group, agrees with Roberts, saying in a written statement to his congressional delegation, “If repairs aren’t made soon, continued deterioration could force the removal of the rare Fresnel lens.”
Help may be coming to the Bodie Island Lighthouse, but it may not be in time. The National Park Service has come up with a nearly $2 million dollar plan to restore the lighthouse. However, it could be as late as 2002 before the National Park Service includes that figure in its budget request to Congress. Then of course there is always the chance that Congress may not approve the funds.
Some of America’s most famous lighthouses have been on our Doomsday List in recent years. And as some were saved they were removed from the Doomsday List, such as: Cape Cod’s Highland Light, Block Island’s Southeast Lighthouse, and, of course, North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Sadly however, others on that list have been removed due to destruction, such as Round Island Light in Mississippi and Galveston Jetty Light in Texas.
While we all wait for the slow moving wheels of government, the Bodie Island Lighthouse continues to deteriorate.
The unanswered question now is -How will the Bodie Island Lighthouse be removed from the Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouses?
This story appeared in the
September 2000 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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