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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - A True American Landmark

Updated on August 22, 2007

As one of the most recognizable symbols of North Carolina, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse continues to provide a beacon of light from the Outer Banks, near the town of Buxton, NC. The Outer Banks are comprised of a group of islands dividing the coastal inlets and sounds from the Atlantic Ocean.

At a height of 207 feet, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest in America. Due to shifting sandbars that led to the grounding of numerous ships offshore from Cape Hatteras in the Diamond Shoals area, the nickname "Graveyard of the Atlantic" was given to this region. This was the impetus for Congress to authorize funds for construction of the lighthouse. It is still operational, with the light visible from approximately 20 miles out in clear conditions. Other coastal North Carolina lighthouses still in operation include Oak Island, Cape Lookout, Ocracoke, Bodie Island, and Currituck.

The automated beacon of light from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is visible every seven seconds. Over 1 million bricks, baked in kilns along the James River in Virginia, were used during construction between 1868 and 1870. It is believed that the engineer who was originally assigned to paint North Carolina's lighthouses got his plans mixed up. Apparently, the diamond-shaped figures, which were supposed to warn traffic away from Diamond Shoals, went to Cape Lookout. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse received spiral striping, thus obtaining the nickname ''The Big Barber Pole.''

Erosion, caused by the continued encroachment of waters from the Atlantic, threatened the lighthouse over the years. The massive structure was moved 2,870 feet inland during an incredible undertaking in 1999 - 2000. The move was opposed by some, who feared that the structure would not survive the move. The lighthouse was rededicated in 2000 and is now once again open to the public.

From early April through mid-October, visitors can climb the 268 steps to enjoy an incredible view of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Buildings that served as quarters to the lighthouse keepers are located nearby. One of these has been restored by the U.S. Park Service and is used as a visitor center and museum. During the summer months, programs include discussions of storms, shipwrecks, pirates, and local wildlife. Activities such as bird walks, snorkeling in the sound, and art activities for kids are available. Also located at the site is a nature trail that runs through the fresh water marshes and wooded dunes of Buxton Woods.


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    • MayberryNC profile image

      MayberryNC 9 years ago

      Thanks for the comments! I've only been to the lighthouse once, but it seems like an old friend for some unexplainable reason.

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      florida realtor 9 years ago

      Thanks for this post! I have been to The Outer Banks on many surf & camping trips, and have climbed this lighthouse. It really is something to see. I grew up on Long Beach Island right down the street from "Old Barney" and now live in New Smyrna Beach just across the ICW from the lighthouse at Ponce Inlet. There is something mesmerizing and comforting about lighthouses to me.