History of the Federal Point Lighthouses

By Sandy Jackson

[Originally published in the March, 1995 FPHPS Newsletter]

In 1814 the US. Congress authorized the construction of a beacon at Federal Point. Two years later, on September 15, Robert Cochran, collector of customs at Wilmington and superintendent of the lighthouse on Bald Head, reached an agreement with Benjamin Jacobs of the town of Wilmington, for the construction of the new beacon. Jacobs agreed that he would build a beacon on Federal Point above New Inlet before the end of the year. The beacon, defined simply as a small lighthouse, stood on a stone or brick foundation laid approximately three feet under the ground.

Federal Point Light

Federal Point Light

The conical brick beacon rose forty feet in height to the base of the lantern. At its base it measured six feet across with walls three feet thick. Wooden shingles covered the top of the three-floored beacon. Ladders connected each of the floors.

Little is known of the type lantern used except that it was a fixed 1 light. A door entered the beacon, while only a single window was placed near the top of the structure.

The entire exterior of the brick beacon was plastered and painted white. By the spring of 1817 Robert Cochran certified that Benjamin Jacobs had successfully completed the task of building the lighthouse and it was ready for service. For his task Jacobs received the sum of thirteen hundred dollars.

The beacon warned mariners of the hazards at New Inlet until the night of April 13, 1836, when flames engulfed and totally destroyed it.

In 1837, Henry Stowell of Hingham, Massachusetts reconstructed the Federal Point lighthouse. It operated until Confederate forces put it out of use in 1861.

This new tower was constructed of hard brick in a rounded form 30 feet above the surface of the ground. The diameter of the base measured 18 feet, while the top was 9 feet. An arched deck of soap stone 11 feet in diameter, four inches thick, and the joints filled with lead, topped the brick I tower. Entrance to the lantern was made through a scuttle sealed by an iron and copper scuttle door.

The wrought iron lantern was built in an octagonal form and contained eleven patent lamps and reflectors. The brick tower contained a door six feet by three feet, and three windows. The tower and woodwork were painted white, except for the dome that was painted black. Adjacent to the lighthouse a one-story dwelling house 34 feet by 20 feet was built of hard brick and contained a chimney at either end. The following year a cistern was added to the complex.

The Third Federal Poin Lighthouse

The Third Federal Point Lighthouse

A third lighthouse was put into service after the war and used until the closing of New Inlet in 1880.

On August 23, 1881, although no longer in use, fire destroyed this lighthouse. At that time a Mr. Taylor, the former keeper, and his family still occupied the lighthouse located less than a mile from Fort Fisher.

 

Bibliography

Stick, David. “North Carolina Lighthouses“. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1980.

US. Lighthouse Service Records, United States Coast Guard, Washington DC.

Wilmington (North Carolina) Advertiser, April 22, 1836

Wilmington (North Carolina) Star, August 24, 1881.


 [Additional resources]

Lighthouses of the Lower Cape Fear River

Federal Point Lighthouse Foundation Uncovered! (2009)

March, 1995 Newsletter (pdf) – FPHPS