Beach Access and Park  Issues
October 2,  2009

Park Service hosts celebration of historic lighthouse move


The National Park Service brought together some of the movers and shakers today to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the historic move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

That journey took the lighthouse about a half mile to the southwest of its original location, where it stood guard over the treacherous Diamond Shoals for almost 130 years, to move it away from the encroaching Atlantic Ocean.

The move took about 175 days of on-site preparation and was completed in 23 days from June 17 to July 9, 1999, amid a great deal of media coverage and controversy.

The move of the world’s tallest brick lighthouse – 208 feet tall and weighing 4,400 tons – was a feat that had never before been attempted.  It is still today believed to be the largest, biggest structure ever moved, and the relocation won several engineering awards.

This morning, under sunny skies and with pleasant fall temperatures, many of the folks involved returned to celebrate and discuss what came to be known as the “move of the century.”

They gathered under a tent next to the relocated lighthouse with invited guests, current and former Park Service volunteers, a few members of the community, and some tourists who stopped by to see what was happening.

One of the invited guests who spoke on a panel to discuss the move was Russell Berry, who became superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 1994 and was the official who got the move underway after some years of discussion about how – or whether – to move the tower.

Berry related a story about Park Service engineers who were instructed to find the proper place to move the lighthouse out of harm’s way.

“In late 1994,” he said, “they brought me through the woods to this spot where they had placed a stake in the ground.

And that is the site to which the iconic beacon was finally moved.

But, Berry recalled, the plan to move the light was not without problems with funding and a controversy in the community.

The price tag on the move, which ended up being about $13 million, was more than the Park Service could carve out of its budget, Berry said.  He said he approached Sen. Marc Basnight, a Democrat from Manteo who was then and is now President Pro Tempore of the state’s Senate.

He said Basnight and then Go v. James Hunt lobbied President Bill Clinton in his limousine on a trip the chief executive made to Raleigh, and in 1998, Congress appropriated $9.8 million for the move.

Berry also noted the local controversy that erupted over the plan to move the lighthouse.

The move was opposed by many Hatteras islanders, who were worried that the lighthouse wouldn’t make it to its new site in one piece or who just thought it should stay in its historic location by the sea.

“It’s good to come back after 10 years,” he said, “and see everyone sitting down together.”

Joe Jakubik, who was the chief engineer for the contractor on the move, International Chimney Corp. of Buffalo, N.Y., spoke eloquently about his involvement with the project.

“If you are lucky in life, you have a chance to be a part of something wonderful,” he said.

And, he said, the move of the century was his chance at that.

“This was the job we trained for,” he said of the many engineers who were part of the relocation.

He said the group brought together to do the heavy moving was a “dream team.”  He mentioned many names and companies, and among them were Jerry Matyiko of Expert House Movers and Steve Crum of Buxton, who was a problem solver and go-to guy for the moving team.

Danny Couch of Buxton, who has written about island history since high school and who did not support moving the lighthouse, also spoke.

However, he noted, that the move was “good for the island, good for the county, good for the state, good for the country, and good for engineering.

Jeffrey Crow, deputy secretary of the North Carolina office of Archives and History, also addressed the group, and Cheryl Shelton-Roberts, a co-founder of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society was the keynote speaker.

Jerry Matyiko of Expert House Movers came back to Hatteras for the celebration.

He said people still ask him about the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse relocation.

“They say, ‘Did you see about that lighthouse being moved at Cape Hatteras?  Do you know who did that?’

“I just say, ‘Yes.’”

The old lighthouse site is now marked with a ring of the original granite stones, engraved with the names of the lightkeepers.

Tropical storms and hurricanes and northeasters have sent the ocean surging over the area, just as they did before the relocation.

In fact, the relighting of the beacon, originally scheduled for Labor Day weekend of 1999, had to be rescheduled because of Hurricane Dennis.  The tides from that storm ripped up part of Highway 12 between Avon and Buxton, and the storm surge flooded both the old and new lighthouse sites.

The beach in front of the historic site of the Hatteras light is about what it was before the move – not noticeably wider or narrower.

The lighthouse would probably still be standing by the sea if it had not been relocated. 

But most islanders and visitors have accepted the relocation and gotten used to the new site.

And the move of the century was an unforgettable experience for many islanders and thousands of visitors who came to see it.

(Stories and photos from the historic move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse that were written 10 years ago are posted on the Island Features page in the History section.)

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