Currituck Lighthouse

Currituck Beach LighthouseThe Currituck Beach Lighthouse, also known as simply the Currituck Lighthouse, was constructed to fill the last “dark spot” on the North Carolina Coast between Cape Henry, Virginia and Bodie Island. Instead of guarding an inlet, the lighthouse warns sailors away from the area to prevent them from running aground on the low-lying beach. To distinguish the tower from those to the north and to the south, red brick was used in construction and the tower was left unpainted.

Construction on the 162 foot tower began near Corolla in 1873 and ended in December of 1875 when the first lamp was lit. The original light source was a mineral oil lamp containing 5 wicks, the largest of which was 4 inches in diameter. The lens was a first-order Fresnel lens, which remains in operation today. To create the flash pattern, the keeper had to rotate the lens. This was achieved with a system of weights, much like a clock, which had to be cranked by hand every 2 /2 hours. A Victorian “stick style” keepers' duplex was also built on-site, with a small house added in 1920 for a third keeper.

In 1939, the United States Coast Guard took over operation of the lighthouse and automated it. After World War II, with the advent of improved navigational systems on ships, the lighthouse was needed less and less and fell into disrepair. The wooden balustrades and wainscoting in the keepers’ house were stripped by vandals. Open windows and broken doors let in wind and rain. After a time the porches fell in, the floors deteriorated and vines overtook the structure. By the 1970s the grounds were in ruins.

Fortunately, the Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC) took the Currituck Lighthouse on as a restoration project in 1980. Private funding and volunteers helped restore the tower and houses to their original splendor. Over a million dollars has gone into the restoration and maintenance, and the keepers house is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Today, the Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc. owns the lighthouse, which is still used as a navigational aid. The light is now powered by a 1,000 watt bulb behind the original first-order Fresnel lens, and comes on automatically from dusk to dawn. The light pattern remains the same with its 20 second pattern of 3 seconds on and 17 seconds off, and now reaches 19 nautical miles out into the sea.

The Currituck Lighthouse is one of the three lighthouses on the Outer Banks that is open to the public. Visitors can climb the 214 steps of the circular staircase to reach the gallery. Because the lens is the original Fresnel lens and the lighthouse is still functional, however, visitors are not allowed into the lens room. Visitors may tour the keepers’ house and several outbuildings on the site, including a gift shop. The site is so lovely and well-kept that weddings are often held on the grounds.

The tower and the grounds of the lighthouse are open during daylight hours from March through Thanksgiving weekend (except for Thanksgiving Day). Step-climbing fees, donations and sponsors of the Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc. help fund the restoration, which is an ongoing project.

For information about prices and hours of operation, contact the OBC by phone at 252-453-8152, or by email.

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