In this edition, you'll
learn about the Cape Lookout National Seashore and find out the best ways to see
this coastal National Park.
Cape Lookout National
Location: Carteret County east of Morehead City and Beaufort.
Access: Boat only. Take Highway 70 east from Morehead City and
follow signs to Harkers Island and Cape Lookout National Seashore. To
get to the Cape, just call 252.622.1068, and we can get your
reservations on any of the several boats that ferry visitors to and from
the Park. Intrepid canoeists and kayakers can put in at the public park
near the eastern tip of Harkers Island. Be aware that the water in Core
and Back Sounds can get very rough!!
Size: A 56 mile long section of the Outer Banks between
Ocracoke Inlet on the northeast and Beaufort Inlet on the southwest.
Average width is about 1/2 mile.
Established: March 10, 1976. Included on the North Carolina
Registry of Natural Heritage Areas May 23, 1986. Designated as a
component in the Carolinian-South Atlantic Biosphere Reserve in 1986.
Interesting Trivia: When he anchored off Core Banks in 1524,
Italian explorer Verrazano thought the body of water on the west side of
the dunes that we know as Pamlico Sound was the "oriental sea...
which is the one... which goes about the extremity of India, China, and
Cathay." For the next 150 years, many European explorers embarked
on a fruitless search for "Verrazano's Sea." and a short route
to the Far East.
Brief Summary of the
History of Cape Lookout
Want to know what our coastal barrier islands looked like before postwar
development got the best of them? Visit Cape Lookout. It is the closest thing
to a seaside wilderness to be found south of Maine.
But dont let the pristine appearance of this national seashore's three
islands - North Core Banks, South Core Banks, and Shackleford Banks deceive
you. People have lived and worked in this difficult environment for a long
time. Verrazano reported natives living on Core Banks during his 1524 voyage
to the New World. Colonial sailors frequently used Lookout Bight as a safe
harbor during storms and hurricanes. Pirates, such as Blackbeard, found its
protected waters a convenient place to launch raids on merchant shipping. The
wild ponies that live on Shackleford Banks today are believed to be
descendants of feral ponies left behind by Spanish explorers.
Portsmouth, on North Core Banks, was established by North Carolina's
colonial assembly in 1753 and settled shortly thereafter. At its peak in 1860,
the village had 505 permanent residents, of which 117 were slaves.
While many of Portsmouth's buildings remain, the traces of other human
habitations on the seashore have all but disapperared. Diamond City, at the
eastern end of Shackleford Banks, was a thriving whaling and fishing village
of 500 people in 1899. But a succession of hurricanes prompted residents to
load their homes and belongings onto boats and move to the mainland. By 1903,
Diamond City was a ghost town. No trace remains today except a few pieces of
lumber and shards of pottery and glass.
The legacy of human habitation shapes this landscape today nonetheless. The
feral horses on Shackleford Banks eat vegetation such as marsh grass and young
trees, stunting plant succession and limiting the island's ecological
diversity. The maritime forests that once covered much of the entire Seashore
has been reduced to a small remnant near the western end of Shackleford Banks.
The most enduring and romantic legacy of human habitation on the seashore
is the Cape Lookout lighthouse. Built in 1859 to replace a smaller one built
in 1812, its height of 150 feet makes it one of the tallest on the East Coast.
For years, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse has been a landmark
to mariners. It warns of the treacherous 10-mile long shoals extending off the
Cape which early maps depicted as Promontorium Tremendum, or Horrible
Headland. The low-lying Core Banks upon which the lighthouse stands is
another hazard. Even in the best weather; a ship could be aground before the
land is sighted in this area. The light from the lighthouse marks the safe,
sheltered harbor of Lookout Bight.
In the early 1800s, Congress authorized construction of a lighthouse on Cape
Lookout. Though it's not certain when construction began, the original Cape
Lookout Lighthouse was completed and lighted in 1812. The 96-foot high brick
tower was eventually painted with red and white horizontal stripes.
In time, it proved to be inadequate to protect passing ships from the Horrible
Headland of Lookout Shoals. The tower was too short and its beacon too
unreliable to sufficiently light this treacherous section of the coast. By the
1850s, it was apparent that the lighthouse was in serious disrepair as well as
in danger from the encroaching sea.
The present lighthouse structure was completed in 1859. Its red brick tower
was sturdier and taller than the original structure of 1812. The lantern
contained a first-order Fresnel lens that displayed a fixed light that could be
seen up to 18 miles offshore. Today, a pile of rubble is all that remains of the
original lighthouse of 1812.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, the tower was vandalized by retreating
Confederate troops and the Fresnel lens damaged, thus rendering the lighthouse
useless to the Union ships after nightfall. In 1863, the tower was refitted with
a third-order Fresnel lens. The original lens was repaired and reinstalled in
In 1873, the present Keeper's Quarters was constructed and the lighthouse
received its distinctive diamond-shaped, black-and-white pattern which helped to
distinguish it from the other North Carolina lighthouses. Today, even though
sophisticated navigational systems are used by ships, the lighthouse is a
reminder of the dangerous shoals. The tower is equipped with a radio beacon and
has been unmanned and automated since 1950.
Will the tower give way to weather and sea? It has survived many hurricanes
and war, but today its battle is with the wind and sea. Between 1940 and 1979,
1,000 feet of land between the lighthouse and sound have eroded away.
History of the Lighthouse
- United States Congress authorizes the construction of the first lighthouse
"...on or near the pitch of Cape Lookout". A four-acre site at the
cape is deeded to the government the following year by Joseph Fulford and
Elijah Pigott, though construction would not begin for several years.
- The Secretary of the Treasury of the United States instructs the Collector
of Customs in Beaufort to advertise bids for a lighthouse on Cape Lookout in
- The contract for the Cape Lookout lighthouse is awarded to Benjamin Beal,
Jr., Duncan Thanter and James Stephenson of Boston.
- The first Cape Lookout Lighthouse is completed on the four-acre
Fulford-Pigott tract at a cost of $20,678.54. It is a brick tower inside a
wood frame building. The boarded exterior is shingled and painted with red
and white horizontal stripes. Its mechanism consists of thirteen 21-inch
parabolic reflectors. The focal plane of the light is 96 feet above ground
and 104 feet above sea level. President James Madison appoints James Fulford
as the first keeper at a salary of $300 a year.
- The lighthouse is again in serious need of repair. The paint is nearly
gone and shingles are missing. The interior of the keeper's dwelling also
needs repair, and the keeper is constantly moving sand that has built up
along the side of his quarters. The ocean is coming dangerously close.
Complaints from seafarers are making it evident that a taller and more
stable lighthouse is needed. Though attempts are made to renovate the first
Cape Lookout Lighthouse, eventually the decision would be made to replace
the outmoded structure.
- The U.S. Lighthouse Board is created and assumes control of all aids to
In 1857, Congress appropriates $45,000 to build a new lighthouse.
- Over the years, the effectiveness of the lamp and parabolic reflector
system is questioned. The Lighthouse Board finally gets around to install a
first-order Fresnel lens in the lighthouse. And it isn't until this year
that the Board takes action to rebuild the tower
- The new Cape Lookout Lighthouse is completed and lighted on November 1. It
is a red brick tower, 163 ft high; a wooden stairway winds to the top. The
first-order Fresnel lens displays a fixed light that can be seen 18 miles in
good weather. This tower was to become the prototype of all lighthouses to
be erected on the Outer Banks. The old tower of 1812 was left standing until
as late as 1868.
- Abraham Lincoln is elected President and the Confederacy is formed. North
Carolina joins the Confederacy on May 20.
- Retreating Confederate troops attempt unsuccessfully to blow up the Cape
Lookout tower. The Fresnel lens is damaged and the light is rendered
- A third-order Fresnel lens temporarily replaces the original lens while it
is being repaired. Whale oil, which is used as fuel for the light, climbs to
$2.43 per gallon and the Lighthouse Board searches for a cheaper substitute
In 1867, Congress sets the average rate of pay for the Keeper at $600 a year.
This wage does not change for the next 50 years.
- The wooden stairs are replaced with cast iron stairs. The original
first-order Fresnel lens is repaired and reinstalled.
- The Lighthouse Board turns its attention to the keeper's dwelling. The
building is too old for further repair and Congress appropriates $5,000 for
a new keeper's dwelling.
In 1889, new storehouses are built and the lighthouse, keeper's quarters,
cistern, fences and outhouses are repaired. An iron oil house may have been
built in the late 1890s
- The new keeper's quarters is completed. It houses two assistant keepers
and their families. (This is the present keeper's quarters.) The lighthouse
is painted with its distinctive diagonal black-and-white checkers to
distinguish it as a day marker. Mineral oil (kerosene) becomes the fuel used
to ignite the lamp.
In 1903, Congress appropriates $90,000 for a lightship off the Cape Lookout
Shoals. The following year, a lightship is launched with a steam fog signal to
mark the shoals. Through the years, a lightship remains on station despite being
torn from its moorings during storms.
- Lack of confidence in shorebased lighthouses raises the recommendation for
a lightship at the southern extremity of Cape Lookout Shoals. This would
protect the mariner in hazy weather when a vessel might be on the shoals
before seeing the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Congress takes no action at this
- A third keeper's quarters (a wood structure) is built at a cost of
- The Lighthouse Board is dissolved, and replaced by the Bureau of
- The Cape Lookout beacon is changed from a fixed white light to flashing,
with two, ten-second eclipses.
- This is the last year a lightship is stationed off the Cape Lookout Shoals
until WWII. The radio beacon and electric lightning equipment is salvaged
from the lightship and installed in the lighthouse. A 75-millimeter
incandescent oil vapor lamp increases the light from 77,000 to 160,000
candlepower and is now visible for 19 miles. The worst hurricane in local
history occurs in this year.
- The Bureau of the Lighthouses is incorporated into the U.S. Coast Guard.
- The Cape Lookout Lighthouse becomes completely automated.
- Present lighthouse was built in 1859
- Height above sea level ......... 169 ft
- Height above ground level .... 163 ft
- Focal plane of the lantern ..... 150 ft above mean high water
- Brick and cement construction. In 1873 the tower was painted with its
present black-and-white diamond stripes.
- There are ten windows and two doors in the tower; 201 iron steps spiral
past seven wall landings to the top.
- Two airport beacons, each powered with two, 1000-watt bulbs produce the
light. Each beacon completely rotates in 30 seconds, giving a flash every 15
- The present Keeper's Quarters was built in 1873.
- The keeper's dwelling built in 1907 was declared surplus and moved to its
present site on the Cape in 1960. It is currently known as the Barden House.
- Both keepers houses had a summer kitchen and woodshed. Brick and cement
cisterns were placed at each end of the dwellings with a total capacity of
to Cape Lookout
The beauty of the Cape Lookout lighthouse and its pristine surroundings is
unparalleled. You'll really appreciate the stability and comfort of this
45-foot catamaran as we briskly make the six mile ocean voyage to one of
the premiere anchorages in America. Out cruise departs at 12 noon for the
1-1/2 hour sail to Cape Lookout where you'll enjoy two hours of
unbelievable swimming, snorkeling and some of the best shelling on the
east coast. Upon arrival at Cape Lookout, we beach the boat and serve up a
delicious catered lunch from the Beaufort Grocery Co. Restaurant. When you
taste their signature sandwiches, salads and desserts, you'll see why
locals and visitors alike have made Beaufort Grocery Co. a favorite. Your
bathing suit and beach towel are all you need when you come with us to
Cape Lookout. The rest is pure enjoyment! On board stairs offer easy
access on the off the boat. Large clean restrooms and a freshwater shower
are also provided for the return trip where we'll take you past the
lighthouse for spectacular photos and a brief history of the 160' tower.
So come with us and enjoy a memorable day on the Cape Lookout National
Seashore. Call us
anytime to schedule your trip - Details
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