Built: First Tower 1812 -
Current Tower 1859
Type: Conical Tower - Black
& white diamond markings
Height: 163 feet
Location: Cape Lookout National
Lens: 1st Order Fresnel -
Notes: In 1803, Congress
appropriated $5,000 for a committee to evaluate the possibility of building
lighthouses along the eastern seaboard. The long-term plan was to build
lights along the Outer Banks approximately 40 miles apart, so that as soon
as ships lost sight of one light, the next would come into view. In 1804,
Congress authorized a lighthouse at Cape Lookout, and in February, 1805,
a four-acre plot of land was deeded to the government by Joseph Fulford
and Elijah Piggot. Getting construction for the lighthouse underway took
some time, though, and it wasn't until 1812 that the first Cape Lookout
Light was completed, at a cost of $20,678.54.
Built on a sand dune, the
96-foot brick tower was encircled by a hexagonal wooden tower covered in
cedar shingles and painted with wide, horizontal red and white stripes.
The first keeper, James Fulford, was appointed by President James Madison
and given a salary of $300 per year.
Sadly, it was immediately
apparent that the much-anticipated light was a busted flush. Thirteen oil
lamps produced a fixed white light that was supposed to be visible 16 to
18 miles out to sea, but in actuality was visible only 11 miles in good
weather, and less than that in bad. Additionally, because the tower was
too low to be effective, mariners griped that seeking the light was more
dangerous than braving the shoals. The captain of the mail steamer Illinois,
Lieutenant H.J. Hartstene, complained that "…the lights on Hatteras, Lookout
and Cape Florida, if not improved had be better dispensed with as the navigator
is apt to run ashore looking for them."
By 1850 the lighthouse was
in serious disrepair, and the keeper had to constantly shovel piles of
sand that would build up against his quarters. Additionally, the coast
had eroded enough that the ocean was now dangerously close to the light.
In 1856, a first-order Fresnel lens was installed, but it wasn't until
1857 that Congress appropriated $45,000 to build a new lighthouse.
First lit on November 1,
1859, the second Cape Lookout Lighthouse proved to be a model for the other
lighthouses that would be rebuilt along the Outer Banks-Cape Hatteras,
Bodie Island, and Currituck Lighthouses. Standing 163 feet tall, the graceful
new tower was just over 28 feet in diameter at its base with 9-foot thick
walls. It was made of red brick and displayed the Fresnel lens from the
old tower. At the new height, the fixed white light was visible for 19
miles and could easily be seen above the almost opaque salt spray whipped
up by fierce winds.
The new tower was not destined
to be in peaceful service for long, however. Just 18 months after its completion,
North Carolina joined the Confederacy. As Union forces advanced on the
Carolina coast, Confederate troops dynamited the Bodie Island Tower and
dismantled the Cape Hatteras light. In the spring of 1862, retreating Confederate
troops attempted to blow up Cape Lookout. They were unsuccessful, but they
did manage to damage the lens and lantern. By the beginning of 1865, the
entire coast had fallen into Union hands, and in their attempt to thwart
the encroaching enemy, the people of North Carolina ended up darkening
the coast they had lobbied so hard to illuminate.
After the war, the Lighthouse
Board lost no time repairing the damages. Congress authorized $20,000 for
Cape Lookout Lighthouse in 1866, and the next year, the decrepit wooden
stairs were replaced with cast iron. A third-order lens was placed in use
temporarily until the first-order lens, "injured by the rebels" could be
repaired and restored. In 1871, Congress appropriated $5000 for a new keeper's
dwelling, complete with summer kitchen and woodshed.
1873 was a big year for
Cape Lookout Lighthouse. The keeper's cottage-large enough to house two
assistant keepers and their families-was completed, and the tower was painted.
Because the four lights on the Outer Banks were so similar, the Lighthouse
Board designed striking patterns for each to make them easily distinguishable.
On April 14, Cape Lookout was painted with large checkers that appear as
alternating black and white diamonds. Following the traditional day-mark
aids to navigation, the black checkers are orientated north and south toward
the shallow waters of the shoals and around the headlands, while the white
checkers are orientated east and west facing the deeper waters of Raleigh's
Bay to the east and Onslow Bay to the west.
The next few decades proved
relatively uneventful, with only minor changes to the lighthouse. The price
of whale oil became prohibitive, so in 1885 the lamps at Cape Lookout alternated
between whale oil and kerosene, changing to only kerosene in 1907. Also,
that year saw the addition of a head keepers quarters, built for $4,479.
In 1904, a lightship was stationed off the coast to provide additional
help, and in 1914 Cape Lookout's light was changed from fixed to flashing.
But by 1916, war had again come within sight of Cape Lookout, as German
submarines began plying the Atlantic. Cape Lookout became subject to "brown
outs" in an effort to avoid helping the enemy.
However, the submarine threat
of WWI was child's play compared with what lay ahead. In the early days
of WWII, Germany instigated a secret plan, named Operation "Paukenschlag"
(drumbeat), for a massive submarine attack against the eastern seaboard.
By the beginning of 1942, "wolf packs" of German U-boats prowled the Carolina
coast looking for easy prey. Sadly, they found it in the merchant-rich
waters guarded by woefully ill-prepared Navy patrol vessels.
Between January and April
of 1942, German U-boats sank over 80 ships off the coast of North Carolina.
This time, neither any of the lighthouses nor any of the offshore lighted
buoys had been darkened, causing German sub commanders to dub the exercise
the "Atlantic Turkey Shoot." The 5th Naval District, part of which included
the waters off Cape Lookout, was protected by the Coast Guard vessel Dione,
a cutter that had been built during Prohibition to combat rum-runners.
Although perfectly suited for the Coast Guard, the vessel was no match
for the U-boats.
Dire warnings as well as
offers of help came from the British allies, who had developed successful
convoy tactics and had broken the German code, but, inexplicably, America
initially ignored them. The area off the North Carolina coast became known
as "Torpedo Junction" as the casualties mounted. At one point in Lookout
Bight, a tanker burned for three weeks.
By the end of 1942, the
U.S. Navy responded in earnest. They deployed anti-submarine vessels, adopted
the British convoy tactics, and initiated aircraft patrols. The U-boats'
marauding days were over, but not before hundreds of sailors had joined
those already buried in the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
The peaceful days of 1950
changed Cape Lookout Lighthouse forever. The light was completely automated
and the keeper no longer needed. The keeper's cottage was subsequently
moved down the island and is now a private residence.
In 1950 the light
was automated. The 1st-order Fresnel lens was removed in 1972
and two 24-inch diameter 1000-watt aerobeacons (DCB-24) were installed.
It flashes every 15 seconds and is visible at least 12 miles out to sea
and up to 19 miles.
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse
is the only such structure in the United States to bear the checkered daymark,
intended not only for differentiation between similar light towers, but
also to show direction. The black diamonds point in a north-south direction,
while the white diamonds point east-west.