From the third Friday in April to Columbus Day in October the Bodie Island Lighthouse is open for self-guided climbs.
1837, the federal government sent Lieutenant Napoleon L. Coste of the
revenue cutter Campbell to examine the coastline for potential
lighthouse sites that would supplement the existing one at Cape
Hatteras. Coste determined that southbound ships were in great need of
a beacon on or near Bodie Island by which they could fix their position
for navigating the dangerous cape. He punctuated his recommendation
with the statement that "more vessels are lost there than on any other
part of our coast."
responded with an appropriation for a lighthouse that same year, but
complications over purchasing the necessary land delayed construction
until 1847. This was but the first of many problems. Though the
skillful Francis Gibbons was contracted as engineer, the project's
overseer was a former Customs official named Thomas Blount, who
unfortunately, had no lighthouse experience at all. This proved
disastrous when Blount ordered an unsupported brick foundation laid,
despite Gibbons' recommendations to the contrary. As a result, the
54-foot tower began to lean within two years after completion. Numerous
expensive repairs failed to rectify the problem and the lighthouse had
to be abandoned in 1859.
second lighthouse fared little better than its wobbly predecessor.
Though funded, contracted, and completed in prompt fashion at a nearby
site in 1859, it soon succumbed to an unforeseen danger - the Civil
War. Fearing that the 80-foot tower would be used by Union forces,
retreating Confederate troops blew it up in 1861.
the war, the coast near Bodie Island remained dark for several years
while a replacement tower was considered by the Lighthouse Board.
Though the Board was disposed against the idea, numerous petitions came
in from concerned ship captains and, finally, it decided in favor of a
third Bodie Island Lighthouse. Still, it was not until 1871 that
construction began. The first two Bodie Island Lights had been located
south of Oregon Inlet, actually on Pea Island.
new 15-acre site, purchased by the government for $150.00 from John
Etheridge, was north of the inlet. Work crews, equipment, and materials
from the recent lighthouse project at Cape Hatteras were used to build
necessary loading docks, dwellings, and facilities. Government
contracts brought bricks and stone from Baltimore firms and ironwork
from a New York foundry. Construction of the tower proceeded smoothly
and it first exhibited its light, magnified by a powerful first-order
Fresnel lens, on October 1, 1872. The keepers' quarters duplex was
completed soon thereafter.
problems with flocks of geese crashing into the lens and improper
grounding for electrical storms were quickly rectified with screening
for the lantern and a lightning rod for the tower. There have been few
other difficulties with the lighthouse itself since its completion.
From the keeper’s perspective, however, there remained the problem of
isolation. Bodie Island was completely undeveloped and the closest
school was in Manteo on neighboring Roanoke Island (accessible only by
boat). This meant that the keeper’s wife and children lived away from
the lighthouse except during the summer months, which made for a lonely
and trying family life most of the year. Such situations, of course,
were quite common in the Lighthouse Service. Eventually, progress
enabled school buses to reach the island and the families were able to
live with the keepers.
light was electrified in 1932, phasing out the need for on-site
keepers. Finally, all of the light station’s property, except the
tower, was transferred to the National Park Service in 1953. The
keepers' duplex has since undergone two historic restorations, the last
having been completed in May 1992. The building now serves as a ranger
office and visitor center for Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The most
recent restoration of the lighthouse itself was completed in 2013.
Still a functioning navigational aid, the tower is open for public tours.
away between tall pine trees and freshwater marshland, the Bodie Island
Light presents anything but a typical lighthouse setting. Though not as
well-known as its neighbors, it remains an important part of local
history and a favorite spot for visitors. And still every evening,
amidst the water towers and blinking radio antennae of modern
development, its powerful light beams out across the darkening waves,
keeping silent watch over the treacherous waters known as the
“Graveyard of the Atlantic.”
(Editor's note: This article is reprinted from the National Park Service website.)