Whether climbing the stairs of the lighthouse, perusing the exhibits at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, or merely meandering along a bustling soundside dock, it is easy to see that Hatteras Island abounds with a rich history and a community that deeply cherishes its culture and traditions.
When it seems that a piece of the past may be slipping through the cracks and eventually be forgotten, local residents are quick to take action, initiating petitions for their cause and launching efforts in pursuit of proper historical preservation.
The circle of stones, which marks the former site of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, is one such case.
The 36 massive granite stones were cut from the lighthouse’s foundation during its 1999 relocation and later engraved – through a donation from the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society — with the names of the 83 keepers of the light.
The stones serve as a symbol of cultural and historical significance — a monument to the 1870 lighthouse, the massive 1999 relocation project, and to all those linked to the light over the years.
The circle of stones attracts a steady stream of visitors who create new memories at the site while eyeballing the 2,900 feet that now stand between the lighthouse and its former home.
Additionally, it has been the site of weddings, memorial services, christenings, Easter sunrise services, and other important ceremonies
However the beach erosion that prompted the lighthouse relocation now threatens the monument’s survival.
The tide has crept closer and sand from storm tides often cover the stones completely.
Over the years, the National Park Service maintained the site by removing the sand coverage, but last spring, decided to end their cyclical battle against the elements, allowing the site to become a gauge of the rising sea level.
This decision raised a red flag throughout the island community, including members of both the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society and the Hatteras Island Genealogical and Preservation Society.
The alternative proposition to move the stones to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum was also opposed because the groups felt that they should retain their connection to the lighthouse.
After months of correspondence between the two groups and the Park Service and with the involvement of the office of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and seashore Superintendent Barclay Trimble, a plan was finally forged.
The stones would be moved to a location in the vicinity of the lighthouse’s current location but would not be reassembled as a circle.
According to Bett Padgett, president of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, Trimble told them that the Park Service would prefer they not be left in a circle, lest it might give the impression to visitors that the lighthouse had been moved just a few feet instead of 2,900 feet.
They will form an amphitheater – with the stones forming semicircular rows – in the area behind the outdoor pavilion and the new site will be named “Keepers of the Light Amphitheater”.
Although plans have been made, the process of relocating the massive stones has only just begun.
“We have uncovered the stones to take measurements and start planning for the move and the barricade around the stones will be coming down tomorrow to allow for public access until the move occurs,” Trimble said in an e-mail yesterday. “We have submitted information to the State Historic Preservation Office about our plans, and we will not be moving the stones until we have had communications with them.”
Once the park gets the go-ahead, the stones will be moved to the Buxton maintenance yard where the stones will be cleaned up and prepared for their new home on the Light Station grounds.
The Park Service could not provide a firm date for when the process will begin, but it is projected to occur within the next week or two.