A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Thursday afternoon, December 7, to mark the start of an imminent project to restore, repair, and raise the Double Keepers’ Quarters and other structures at the Ocracoke Light Station.
Built in 1823, the Ocracoke Light Station has been closed off to visitors since the last keeper left in 1954, but this will change once the upcoming project is complete, as the first floor of the Double Keepers’ Quarters will be transformed into a Visitors Center.
“It will be the first time that the structure opens to the public – it has never been open to the public before,” said George Jaramillo, Historical Architect for the Outer Banks Group of the National Park Service. “So, it is going to be a big difference, and a change of use, but we feel that it’s going to be really good for the community and for visitors.”
There are a number of steps to complete during the multi-faceted project, and planned improvements include the following:
- Raise the Double Keepers’ Quarters an estimated five feet to protect against future storm surge.
- Raise the Store House, Carpenter’s Shop, Generator House, and Privy by approximately two feet on concrete masonry piers with concrete footers.
- Repair interior and exterior storm damage and repaint all structures.
- Remediate all structures for mold, lead-based paint, and asbestos-containing material.
- Install a pathway from the existing boardwalk to a custom lift to the Double Keepers’ Quarters. The pathway and custom lift will meet Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) accessibility standards.
While the work involved seems simple, there are a number of challenges on the horizon due to the structure’s age, as well as its solid-brick composition.
“In one sense, it’s a fairly straightforward rehabilitation or restoration project, but in another sense, it is a very intricate project with lots of small bits of detail,” said Jaramillo. “This wall is almost two feet deep in brick – it is a block of masonry – and it’s rare to have a masonry building this old that isn’t a lighthouse… and to elevate it is a whole other challenge.”
The restoration is expected to take a total of 12 months, but Thursday’s event was to celebrate all the hard work that has gone into the process, which included several years of designing, planning, and collecting public input.
“We know that the Light Station and the lighthouse mean so much to so many people on this island, and I am particularly proud of this project for a Light Station that’s been around for 200 years,” said David Hallac, Superintendent of National Parks of Eastern NC. “I would suggest that this project is the largest and maybe most innovative project that we have implemented since the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse over 20 years ago.”
“When it comes to the treasures that the Park Service manages, we always have to implement a balance between trying to preserve the integrity of these incredible historic structures, but also adapt them to a changing world,” he added. “All you have to do is drive around the neighborhood here [In Ocracoke] and see that all of you on this island have adapted your homes, perhaps even your driveways or your garages, to changing conditions on the island to make them as resilient as possible as the ocean rises and it becomes a little bit more difficult to live in coastal areas. I believe we achieved the right balance with this project.”
Hallac credited the community’s support and insight to cementing the final plans for the project, and finding the best way forward to both protect the buildings of the Ocracoke Light Station, and retain their historical integrity.
“I remember having a wonderful meeting at the Berkeley Barn with many of you who had lots of great suggestions and ideas on how to implement this project -to make it resilient but also ensure that this building is around for many decades to come,” said Hallac. “And I thank all of you for the incredible input that you provided. You helped us make this a much better project.”
Speakers at Thursday’s event included Hallac, Jaramillo, Hyde County Manager Kris Noble, and Ramona Bartos, Director of the Division of Historical Resources for the State Historic Preservation Office.
“I’d like to pay tribute to the National Park Service, to Hyde County, and to the village of Ocracoke for the teamwork that it has taken to get to this point for what is a very complex project,” said Bartos. “But it’s a project that I think will be a model, as the Cape Hatteras lighthouse [project] was.”
After the remarks, ceremonial shovels were dipped into the ground outside the Double Keepers Quarters as a crowd of roughly 50 community members looked on.
Following the short ceremony, the first floor of the Double Keepers Quarters was briefly open to visitors, as Park Service representatives fielded questions on the upcoming restoration.
Contractor Terra Site Constructors LLC of Front Royal, Virginia, who was awarded the contract for the $3.6 million project on Sept. 25, 2023, is expected to begin work in earnest in January 2024.
“The whole structure will receive a full rehabilitation, and we’ll try to aim for making it flood resilient as possible, [while] using materials that are complementary to the historic materials that are in the site right now,” said Jaramillo. “The coming year will bring new adaptations and challenges, but hopefully we’ll have – and see – new futures for this island, and this site.”