On December 1, 1875 the beacon of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse filled the remaining "dark space" on the North Carolina coast between the Cape Henry light to the north and Bodie Island to the south. To distinguish the Currituck Beach Lighthouse from other regional lighthouses, its exterior was left unpainted and gives today's visitor a sense of the multitude of bricks used to form the structure. The lighthouse was automated in 1939 when the United States Coast Guard assumed the duties of the Bureau of Lighthouses. At a height of 158 feet, the night beacon still flashes at 20-second intervals to warn ships hugging the chain of barrier islands along the coast.
The Lighthouse Keepers' House, a Victorian "stick style" dwelling, was constructed from pre-cut and labeled materials which were shipped by the U.S. Lighthouse Board on a barge and then assembled on site. In 1876, when the Keepers' House was completed, two keepers and their families shared the duplex in the isolated seaside setting. The keepers were removed after the Lighthouse was automated and attendants were no longer needed to clean the lenses, trim the wicks, fuel the lamp, and wind the clockwork mechanism which rotated the beacon.
By the late 1970s, the Lighthouse Keepers' House stood open to the elements with no windows or doors; porches had decayed and vines invaded the north side. Much of the interior millwork had been vandalized. Concerned about the preservation of the historic property, Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc., a private non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the character of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, signed a lease with the State of North Carolina in 1980 to begin a phased restoration of the property. The lease charged the group with the responsibility of restoring the Keepers' House and improving the historic compound.
Today, the grounds and walkways are rejuvenated and the exterior of the Keepers' House is nearly complete, but the phased restoration of the interior remains a considerable undertaking. Although plaster walls and pine floors have been repaired, vandalized wainscoting replaced, and the mahogany balustrades replicated, reproduction doors and hardware must be made and installed and interior finishes applied.
OBC worked with the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources to restore the smaller (and possibly older) dwelling on the north side of the complex. This house was probably moved to the site around 1920 as a residence for a third keeper and his family. The structure is now open from Easter through Thanksgiving as a Museum Shop offering models of Outer Banks lighthouses, books and other lighthouse and wild horse-related items.
Other historic structures located within the lighthouse compound include an outhouse and a storage building. The two-hole privy has been repaired and the storage building with its four sharp finials has been restored and now serves as the lighthouse staff office. The two louvered structures flanking the Keepers' House are cisterns which store rain water.
OBC has broad-based support from donations and sponsorships. An annual
sponsorship is $25 for an individual and $50 for a family. Each sponsorship
includes a number of free visits and an annual Newsletter. Donations
are fully tax-deductible and sponsorships are deductible to the extent
allowable by the IRS. Funds are used for historic preservation and
conservation projects, including the restoration and maintenance of
the Currituck Beach Light Station. For further information, contact
the OBC site manager, at 252-453-8152.
Number of steps: 214
Height to focal plane of lens: 158 feet
Height to top of roof: 162 feet
Number of bricks: approximately one million
Thickness of wall at base: 5 feet 8 inches
Thickness of wall at parapet: 3 feet
Position: 34 miles south of the Cape Henry (Virginia) Lighthouse
32 1/2 miles north-northwest of Bodie Island Lighthouse
Coast Survey Chart: 36° 22'36" N latitude, 75° 49'51" W longitude.
As it had reported in previous years, the U.S. Light-House Board in 1872 stated that ships, cargoes, and lives continued to be lost along the 40 miles of dark coastline that lay beyond the reaches of existing lighthouses. Southbound ships sailing closer to shore to avoid the Gulf Stream were especially in danger. In response, construction began on the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in 1873 with completion two years later.
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is known as a first order lighthouse, which means it has the largest of seven Fresnel lens sizes. The original source of light was a U.S. mineral oil lamp consisting of five concentric wicks; the largest was 4 inches in diameter.
Before the advent of electricity, a mechanical means was required to rotate the huge lenses that made the light appear to flash. A system of weights suspended from a line powered a clockwork mechanism beneath the lantern--much like the workings of a grandfather clock. The keeper cranked the weights up by hand every two and a half hours.
Like the other lighthouses on North Carolina's Outer Banks, this one still serves as an aid to navigation. The beacon comes on automatically every evening at dusk and ceases at dawn.
With a 20-second flash cycle (on for 3 seconds, off for 17 seconds), the light can be seen for 18 nautical miles. The distinctive sequence enables the lighthouse not only to warn mariners but also to help identify their locations.
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse was the last major brick lighthouse built on the Outer Banks.
CLIMB TO THE TOP
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse and Museum Shop are open daily from Easter
through Thanksgiving (closed Thanksgiving Day). During periods of high
winds or thunderstorms the lighthouse tower may be closed to climbers.
Winter months provide time for restoration and maintenance. Telephone
252/453-4939 for lighthouse hours and information.