The History of The Oak Island Lighthouse

The Oak Island Lighthouse, still standing today, was not the first lighthouse built in the area. Other lighthouses preceded the current Oak Island Lighthouse. In 1761, a hurricane caused an inlet on OakThe Oak Island Lighthouse Island. This inlet was the best route to the Wilmington port. In 1849, construction was completed on two lighthouses on Oak Island because of this inlet. Unfortunately, these two lighthouses were destroyed during the Civil War. In 1879, two new lighthouses were built to replace the two that were destroyed. These two lighthouses did fair well either. One was destroyed by fire and no one knows how the other one was destroyed.

After the first two lighthouses were destroyed, Congress appropriated funds for the Cape Fear Lighthouse, which would be located on nearby Bald Head Island. Bald Head Island already had a lighthouse that had been built in 1817, known as Old Baldy. However, Old Baldy was not tall enough and had a limited range of its lens and therefore was not useful for warning ships away from frying pan shoals. Construction of the Cape Fear Lighthouse, a 150 foot, pyramidal skeletal iron tower, was completed in 1903 and its light could be seen for 19 nautical miles. Once the Cape Fear Lighthouse was completed, Old Baldy was downgraded to a low intensity, static light. The Cape Fear Lighthouse was used until 1958 when the current Oak Island Lighthouse was built. The current Oak Island Lighthouse was more accessible than the Cape Fear Lighthouse. The Cape Fear Lighthouse was no longer needed and was destroyed.

The Oak Island Lighthouse, which still stands today, is located on the grounds of the Oak Island Coast Guard Station between Caswell Beach and Fort Caswell and is run by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Oak Island Lighthouse was one of the last lighthouses built in the United States, and was the last lighthouse built in North Carolina. The lights of the Oak Island Lighthouse are four thousand watt aerobeam lights and shine over 24 nautical miles, making it the most brilliant beacon in the United States.

The present structure of the Oak Island lighthouse is made of reinforced concrete and stands 169 feet tall with a diameter of 16 feet. The foundation of the lighthouse goes 70 feet down and sits on bedrock. The structure can sway up to three feet during gale force winds up to 100 miles per hour. Paint was mixed with the concrete while the lighthouse was being built, so the lighthouse never needs to be painted. There are 134 steps to the top station. During construction, two helicopters were used to put the lamps in place.
The Oak Island Lighthouse is the last manually operated lighthouse in the world. It is switched on every evening before sunset and is switched off each morning right after sunrise. Once a week, a member of the Coast Guard climbs the 134 steps to inspect the lights.

Although visitors are not allowed inside the lighthouse, the Coast Guard welcomes visitors to take pictures of the tower and allows tours of the Coast Guard Station on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10:00am to 2:00pm. For more information, call the U.S. Coast Guard at 910-278-1133.

Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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