North Carolina’s Ocracoke Light Station Celebrates 200th Anniversary
When the Ocracoke Light Station was first lit in 1823 off the coast of North Carolina in what is now the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, it served as an aid to help ships’ captains and crews navigate the unpredictable coastline. The Ocracoke Light Station is the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina, and the second oldest existing lighthouse in the U.S., behind the Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey, which was build in 1764.
The Ocracoke Light Station's story starts in 1822, however, when the federal government purchased two acres of land at the south end of Ocracoke Island for $50. Massachusetts builder Noah Porter was tapped to construct the 75-foot light station and its surrounding buildings, including the keepers’ quarters and oil house, for a total cost of $11,359. The entire project was completed within the year, and the light station has been a beacon ever since, thanks to 11 keepers and support from the U.S. Coast Guard.
An oil-burning light beamed from the top of the light station until it was electrified and automated in 1946. The light that still shines today is equal to 8,000 candlepower and can be seen from 14 miles away; its solid white exterior still serves as an identifying mark by day. The U.S. Coast Guard continues to maintain the light, while the structure and surrounding properties are looked after by the National Park Service.
This month and into the fall, the light station is hosting special events to commemorate its 200 years of service; everyone is invited to join in the festivities. Kicking off the fun, a birthday party of sorts was held on May 18, complete with speeches, cake, activities, and more.
As part of the celebration, Park Rangers are offering a 20-minute program during which they talk about the light station and the keepers who kept the light burning over the past 200 years. The 20-minute program is offered Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. each day.
Though we can’t climb to the top of the lighthouse because of its construction — its ground-level diameter starts at 25 feet and narrows to 12 feet at the top, and its five-foot walls at the bottom narrow to just two feet at the top — the base is open for viewing Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
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The island of Ocracoke, just 16 miles long and ranging from one-half to two miles wide, is accessible via private boat or three ferry routes, either in a car, on a bicycle, or on foot. Travel time aboard the Hatteras Ferry, which is free and first-come, first-serve, is about an hour. Reservations and tolls are required for the Cedar Island Ferry and Swan Quarter Ferry, with travel times of about two hours and 10 minutes and two hours and 45 minutes, respectively.
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