Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Lighthouses of Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a beautiful place full of sun and surf, sea birds and skittering crabs, sand dunes, salt marshes and picture perfect sunrises. This narrow group of 3 barrier islands  hosts thousands of visitors a year but the shores have not always been a welcoming place. The beautiful waters off the coast of the islands hide Diamond Shoals a shifting bank of sand bars and ridges that make sailing a risky business. Over 600 ships are known to have gone down in these waters earning the area the nickname Graveyard of the Atlantic.
The US lighthouse Service erected 3 lights on these islands to aid ships in navigating the dangerous passages.
We set off on a sunny September day to see all 3.

Cedar Island Ferry to Ocracoke Island

Our home base was in Havelock so the first leg of the journey was a 40 minute drive to the Cedar Island ferry dock where we caught a 2 ½ hour ride to Ocracoke Island the southernmost point of the Hatteras National Seashore and former hideout of Edward Teach also known as the English pirate Blackbeard.
We had our choice of outdoor seating or an indoor air conditioned lounge. Several passengers had brought binoculars. Fred went down to the car deck to retrieve ours. It was fun to get an up close view of other boats on the water and to see the island as we approached the shore.
The ferry docked in Ocracoke Village at the southern end of the narrow island. We disembarked and parked at the Visitor Center to get stamps for the Ocracoke Lighthouse and the Ocracoke portion of the National Seashore.
Rudder from a wreck at the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum

The Ocracoke Preservation Society is a short walk from the same parking lot. This museum of Ocracoke history is located in the David Williams house, an 1890 foursquare style home with wide porches. The rooms of the home have been set up with period furniture as they would have been when it was built. Each room houses several displays including examples of quilts and other local folk art, WWII relics and a vintage 1950’s Boy Scout poster featuring Ocracoke Islands mounted troop.
It must have been an interesting place when wild ponies freely roamed the island. We were told that the pretty picket fences that surround the historic houses were put there to keep the horses out of the kitchen gardens.
Fred and I spoke with the docent on duty who encouraged us to look at the outdoor exhibits that included pieces of a shipwreck and told us of the extensive genealogical research library they were collecting on the museums second floor.

We left the library and headed into the village to find a British cemetery. There are many small family cemeteries on the island and one on a narrow street in a neighborhood of historic homes contains the bodies of 4 British sailors from the HMS Bedfordshire. The Bedfordshire on anti-submarine duty out of Morehead City was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on May 12, 1942. The bodies of 4 sailors washed ashore and were buried close to one another at the right side of the cemetery. That burial ground was later deeded to the Commonwealth and is essentially British territory. A British flag flies over the graves and a nearby marker quotes Rupert Brooke: If I should die think only this of me that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England

4 British sailors buried here during WWII
Route 12 took us through town where we found Lighthouse Road. The Ocracoke lighthouse built in 1823 is North Carolina’s oldest operating light. The 75 foot white brick and plaster structure is not open for climbing but a small parking area and a boardwalk running to the lighthouse itself makes for a great photo stop.

Ocracoke Lighthouse
We left the truck at a church a short distance away where enterprising parishioners had erected an honor box for parking donations. There were quite a few lighthouse visitors the day we visited so I suspect that the church does well with these anonymous donations.

We continued along route 12 to get to the north end of the 16 mile long island. We passed the pony pens and miles of sand dunes with pull offs for cars and ATV’s. You can drive the beaches of the National Seashore but must apply for an ORV permit at the visitor center.
The ferry to Hatteras Island was boarding as we arrived and we were able to fit the truck in as one of the last 3 vehicles. We opened the windows and sat back to enjoy the free 1 hour ride across the Hatteras Inlet.

The light casts a shadow toward its original location, now lapped by waves
Hatteras Island is a vacationer’s paradise. Parts of it are densely populated with hotels, condos and vacation homes as well as the restaurants shops and service centers that cater to those that inhabit them.  Route 12 continued up the narrow spit of land and we followed it to Buxton where one of the photographed of all lighthouses is found. Climbing Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has been on Fred’s bucket list for more than 20 years and today we made that happen.

257 steps to the top
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built in 1870. At 193 feet and 257 steps it is the tallest light in the US. I was thankful for a landing every 31 steps. The views from the top are spectacular and include the former location of the lighthouse 2900 feet closer to the water. The lighthouse Visitor Center shows a movie about the spectacular feet of engineering it was to move the 193 foot tower.

It took a while but once I got Fred down out of the tower we continued North on route 12 past the Lightsaving station at Little Kinnakeet, through Rodanthe and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, and across the bridge onto Bodie Island. We got to the area of Bodie Island Lighthouse as rainclouds were moving in from the west. It looked beautiful in the waning light but we didn’t stop as we had climbed this light on a prior visit to the Outer Banks.
Bodie Island Llghthouse
We crossed the bridge to Roanoke Island and then to the mainland before making the 2 hour drive back home to Havelock.

It was a long day, a lot of miles, and a most excellent adventure.

The front moving in as we drove south back to Havelock


  1. It really is amazing that they were able to move Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Bonnie. Wood frame buildings are relatively easy to move, but masonry structures are much more difficult...especially one that tall. When they built Comerica Park in Detroit, they moved an entire theater using the same methods that were used at the lighthouse.

  2. I was flabbergasted just watching the video Jim.

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