Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the outer banks of North Carolina for a few days. My trip included many different sights but for this review I will be focusing on Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in America and you and your family can climb the 268 steps to the top of the lighthouse for an amazing view of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the surrounding national parkland and the coast but down south and to the north. Hatteras is an 1 and 15 minuets south of Nags Head, NC, Hatteras is a small area so you’ll likely want to stay in the area of Nags Head unless you just want beach time. The lighthouse has quite a history behind it! Read this background info on the lighthouse before I continue my review
On July 10, 1797, Congress appropriated $44,000 “for erecting a lighthouse on the head land of Cape Hatteras and a lighted beacon on Shell Castle Island, in the harbor of Ocracoke in the State of North Carolina.” The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was constructed in 1802.
The Cape Hatteras light marked very dangerous shoals which extend from the cape for a distance of 10 nautical miles (19 km). The original tower was built of dark sandstone and retained its natural color. The original light consisted of 18 lamps; with 14-inch (360 mm) reflectors, and was 112 feet (34 m) above sea level. It was visible in clear weather for a distance of 18 miles (29 km).
In July 1851, Lt. David D. Porter, USN, reported as follows:
|“||“Hatteras light, the most important on our coast is, without doubt, the worst light in the world. Cape Hatteras is the point made by all vessels going to the south, and also coming from that direction; the current of the Gulf Stream runs so close to the outer point of the shoals that vessels double as close round the breakers as possible, to avoid its influence. The only guide they have is the light, to tell them when up with the shoals; but I have always had so little confidence in it, that I have been guided by the lead, without the use of which, in fact, no vessel should pass Hatteras. The first nine trips I made I never saw Hatteras light at all, though frequently passing in sight of the breakers, and when I did see it, I could not tell it from a steamer’s light, excepting that the steamer’s lights are much brighter. It has improved much latterly, but is still a wretched light. It is all important that Hatteras should be provided with a revolving light of great intensity, and that the light be raised 15 feet (4.6 m) higher than at present. Twenty-four steamship’s lights, of great brilliancy, pass this point in one month, nearly at the rate of one every night (they all pass at night) and it can be seen how easily a vessel may be deceived by taking a steamer’s light for a light on shore.”||”|
The improvement in the light referred to had begun in 1845 when the reflectors were changed from 14 to 15-inch (380 mm). In 1848 the 18 lamps were changed to 15 lamps with 21-inch (530 mm) reflectors and the light had become visible in clear weather at a distance of 20 miles (32 km). In 1854 a first-order Fresnel lens with flashing white light was substituted for the old reflecting apparatus, and the tower was raised to 150 feet (46 m).
In 1860 the Lighthouse Board reported that Cape Hatteras Lighthouse required protection, due to the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1862 the Board reported “Cape Hatteras, lens and lantern destroyed, light reexhibited.”
At the behest of mariners and officers of the U.S. Navy, Congress appropriated $80,000 to the United States Lighthouse Board to construct a new beacon at Cape Hatteras in 1868. The Light-House Board was a federal agency under the direction of the Treasury Department but was headed by a multi-agency committee. The Board consisted of two Army Engineers, two Navy officers, two civilian scientists, and one additional officer from both the Army and Navy to serve as secretaries. Congress established the Board in 1852 for the purpose of creating a unified, continuous system of navigational aides along the coasts. Prior to 1852, lighthouse construction generally rested with local authorities, ultimately leading to a disjointed, ineffective national system. Under the Light-House Board, Navy officers determined where new lighthouses were needed; Army Engineers selected exact locations, designed, and built them; and civilian scientists developed new technologies and techniques for displaying bright, consistent beacons.
The light displays a highly visible black and white diagonal Daymark paint job. It shares similar markings with the St. Augustine Light. Another lighthouse, with helical markings—red and white ‘candy cane stripe’– is the White Shoal Light (Michigan), which is the only true ‘barber pole’ lighthouse in the United States. Its distinctive “barber pole” paint job is consistent with other North Carolina black-and-white lighthouses, “each with their own pattern to help sailors identify lighthouses during daylight hours.”
The National Park Service acquired ownership of the lighthouse when it was abandoned in 1935. In 1950, when the structure was again found safe for use, new lighting equipment was installed. Now the Coast Guard owns and operates the navigational equipment, while the National Park Service maintains the tower as a historic structure. The Hatteras Island Visitor Center, formerly the Double Keepers Quarters located next to the lighthouse, elaborates on the Cape Hatteras story and man’s lifestyle on the Outer Banks. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, tallest in the United States, stands 208 feet (63 m) from the bottom of the foundation to the peak of the roof. To reach the light, which shines 191 feet (58 m) above mean high-water mark, a Coast Guardsman must climb 268 steps. The construction order of 1,250,000 bricks was used in construction of the lighthouse and principal keeper’s quarters.
In 1999, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse had to be moved from its original location at the edge of the ocean to safer ground 2,870 feet (870 m) inland. Due to erosion of the shore, the lighthouse was just 120 feet from the ocean’s edge and was in imminent danger. International Chimney Corp. of Buffalo, New York was awarded the contract to move the lighthouse, assisted, among other contractors, by Expert House Movers. The move was controversial at the time with speculation that the structure would not survive the move, resulting in lawsuits that were later dismissed. Despite some opposition, work progressed and the move was completed on September 14, 1999.
The Cape Hatteras Light House Station Relocation Project became known as “The Move of the Millennium.” Expert House Movers and general contractor International Chimney won the 40th Annual Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1999. The prestigious Outstanding Projects and Leaders (OPAL) Award recognizes and honors outstanding civil engineering leaders whose lifetime accomplishments and achievements have made significant difference. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest masonry structure ever moved (200 feet tall and weighing 5,000 tons).
So now you have the back story of the lighthouse, now we can talk about the climb!
So as I stated before you and your family can climb the 268 steps to the top of the lighthouse for and awesome view. There are a few things you should know first…
The lighthouse is open from the third Friday in April through Columbus Day. Climbing hours will are 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. daily in the spring and fall; and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. the Friday of Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Tickets are required.
Climbing tour tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for senior citizens (62 or older), children (11 and under, and at least 42″ tall), and the disabled.
Special night climbing tours are offered weekly during the summer months. Check the schedule of events or park newspaper for the weekly tour schedule. In addition to the weekly night tours, a full-moon climbing tour is offered monthly during the summer.
There are 248 iron stairs to the top, that equals climbing a 12 story building, they only have a handrail on one side and a landing every 31 steps. It isn’t air conditioned and it may be noisy, humid, hot and dim inside the lighthouse. There is two-way traffic on the narrow stairs aswell.
The day we were there is was a nice brezze blowing so it wasn’t hot inside and they had their windows open so it felt good. Of course if you have heart or respiratory or have trouble climbing stairs you should you your own discretion as to whether to climb or not.
If a storm does come then the lighthouse is shut down as it acts as a giant lightening rod!
The following safety rules apply:
- Children must be at least 42″ tall and capable of climbing all steps on their own.
- Children under 12 must be escorted by an adult (16 years of age or older).
- No person may be lifted or carried.
- Running, jumping, or stomping on stairs and landings is prohibited.
- Do not eat, drink, smoke or chew tobacco.
- No pets, other than service animals.
- Do not arrive in heels over 1 ½ inches high or in bare feet.
- Leave umbrellas in your car.
- Backpacks, tripods, coolers, beach bags, surfboards, fishing poles, etc. also need to be left in your car.
- Throwing of objects, including frisbees, boomerangs, etc, off the lighthouse is unsafe and may get you in big trouble!
Let me tell you, if you have any second thoughts about whether to go or not, GO if you can! It’s so pretty and so worth it!