It’s hard to put into words what the lighthouse means to the islanders and visitors alike who come from all over to gaze at (and climb) this magnificent structure. As kids, we would climb it all the time, day and night, (it was open 24-7 until 1976). We were the unofficial tour guides to the weekly batch of tourists during summer months. When it came to our guardian, it was one of the things we did when we made new friends, taking them up while giving them a history lesson.
I remember the conflict when the topic of moving the lighthouse came up. A lot of different opinions arose, but there was one common agreement… we all loved it and we didn’t want to lose it. Were we going watch it tumble into the ocean? Collapsing into the surf would be a slow, agonizing end to our sentinel and would be a crushing blow to all. Were we going to see the same fate in an attempt to move it?
And how in the heck do you move something so big, heavy, and old across sand? Like most folks, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since it was moved. As I went through my photos for this piece, so many memories flooded my mind, and it was difficult to narrow it down to tell the story. I decided to pull some of my favorites to share, leading up to the move, during and after.
I’m looking forward to the reunion to catch up and share the many stories and memories form that time, see ya there!
During the 1970’s, jobs were scarce, not to mention very seasonal, so when word was out that a company from Norfolk was here sandblasting and painting water towers and had a contract to paint the lighthouse and needed a ground crew, we went looking. My friend Tony from Virginia and I found them at the old water tower that used to be at the Frisco airstrip. The foreman told us he needed someone on the ground and the other in the air. Before I could say that I wasn’t comfortable going up, Tony blurted out that he was scared of heights! The foreman looked at me and I said I would go up (gulp). We spent three months on two water towers and moved all of the equipment to the lighthouse in January 1976. While sandblasting the metal, the more-than-100 years of wear and tear were evident up close. Inspectors came by often and deemed it unsafe for the public to climb after we finished the project in June. Despite the unbelievable experience, I didn’t take one photo. What was I thinking? A few years later, the late Ray Couch gave me this wonderful photo of me and a co-worker sandblasting the stripes. Lesson learned.
This shot was taken during the winter of 1980. Three obvious things stand out in this image, first, the ocean was extremely close due to erosion, second, the scaffolding around the top of the lighthouse was put up to inspect the tower top , and lastly, in the foreground is what remains from the original lighthouse that was lit in 1803 and demolished in 1871 after the current one was finished. More frequent hurricanes, storms and erosion would lead up to the decision to move the lighthouse.
All phases of the project were quickly turned into a large construction site when the project began in early 1999.The path was getting cut and compacted, the final resting site was cleared and the other structures including the oil house, the keepers’ and double keepers’ quarters, and the three water cisterns were getting prepped to be moved. While this went pretty smoothly, cutting and mining the granite base of the lighthouse was slow but methodical. After 12 weeks, the structure was now resting on several jack stands. In order to dig down, dewatering pumps were running nonstop to keep the water level down. It was the first big media day when the last piece of granite was removed.
First to be moved to the new site was the six other structures. Careful planning was made to orient them in the exact location at their new home.
While the lighthouse was getting prepped for her journey, the new foundation was getting formed and poured with 520 yards of concrete. The 60 ft. x 60 ft. x 4 ft. block was reinforced with 58 tons of epoxy-coated rebar. wet tarps were used to help with the curing process.
On June 17th the moved started with a lot of anticipation and anxiety. The moving went flawlessly as 5 hydraulic push jacks connected to another motherboard pushed it 5 ft. at a time. the hydraulic clamps on the beams would release and reconnect after the jack contracted. It was moved only 10 ft. the first day due to the level of the path, which was higher than the original base. Once the lighthouse was on the path, steel plates were laid on the compacted gravel. Each plate had guides for the steel beams so the rollers would line up. Crews had to recycle the gravel steel plates and beams by leapfrogging from back to front as the lighthouse slowly moved forward. As each day went on, efficiency went up too, 71 ft.,19 ft., 136 ft., 135 ft., and 219 ft. on June 23rd.
Historic records stated that the lighthouse was built on a bed of pine timbers, so when the lighthouse was down the path, crews uncovered the pine which the lighthouse had been resting on for the past 130 years. Because the wood was deprived of oxygen, it was still in great shape, it still had the pine aroma when cut.
As the lighthouse approached the intersection, the crowds increased. It was summer and daily crowd estimates were up to 20,000. Workers were happy to talk to the masses and give updates and pose for photos along the way. Coins were flattened by the Hillman rollers during the move and given to children as souvenirs. A lighthouse crossing sign was manned by site watchman Wiilard Gray from Avon. A record 355 ft. move was recorded on July 1st.
July 9th was the last day of the move and droves of media and thousands of onlookers were crammed at the new site. I evened saw people in trees to get a glimpse. A stop sign was erected at the end of the line, and when the lighthouse journey had ended and ran into it, the park issued Joe Jakubik of International Chimney a citation for running a stop sign. It was Mr. Jakubik and International Chimney that did the repair work on the top during the 1990-92 years. Loud cheers and sirens blared at the end of the 2,900 trip. It took just 23 days
One of the things that was overlooked during the move was that we got hit back to back by tropical storm Dennis and Hurricane Floyd. 20 inches of rain, no power or phones for days. Ocean over wash took out the dune and the road with it north of Buxton, cutting us off and having to use 4x4s until the road got replaced.
The next step on the lighthouse was to lay up to 140,000 bricks and remove the jack stands. On media day , several members got to lay a few bricks into the new foundation, pretty cool.
This is Skelley Hunt and his lovely wife Patty. Skelley was the on site foreman for International Chimney. He was friendly, funny and became a friend during my many visits to the site. Sadly he passed and won’t be at the reunion, but I’ll be thinking of him.
This is Jerry Matyiko and crew of Expert House Movers out of Virginia Beach. They were the ones that were tasked to move all the structures including the lighthouse. Brothers Jerry, Jim, John and sons Travis, Gabriel, and Scott were fixtures at the site and well liked in the community.
Finishing touches were added over the years including a retail store, bathrooms, sidewalks and these stones from the original site that includes names from all the keepers carved into them.