Lighthouses of the Lower Cape Fear River

[Text was originally published in the December 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter]

by Susi Clontz

Lighthouses of the Lower Cape FearBecause of North Carolina’s treacherous coastline, our shores have been graced with coastal lighthouses. These tall, circular structures tower above the sand banks at scattered intervals along our Atlantic shoreline. Mariners have used these lighthouses for centuries as guides for safe passage through the narrow channels, sounds, inlets, and up interior rivers.

Old Baldy

Old Baldy

At present [1996] North Carolina has eight remaining lighthouses (a good overview of NC Lighthouses).

Three lighthouses are located on the southern end of the Cape Fear River and can be seen from the Southport/Fort Fisher ferry.

The first lighthouse built in North Carolina was affectionately called “Old Baldy” located at Bald Head Island. Its purpose was to warn mariners of the dangerous Frying Pan shoals and provide guidance into the mouth of the Cape Fear River.  It was completed in 1818 at a cost of $15,915.45. It stands 109 feet high and is brick covered with plaster.

The state discontinued using Bald Head lighthouse in 1935. All that is left standing is the tower that serves as a distinctive day marker and the oil shed that stored the oil used to light the lamps.

Price's Creek Light

Price’s Creek Light

On August 14, 1848, Congress passed a bill allowing the installation of a series of lights along the Cape Fear River. The cost was six thousand dollars for two beacon lights at Price’s Creek. The lights

Oak Island Lighthouse

Oak Island Lighthouse

allowed the pilots safe passage as they steered through the channel. One light remains, making it the only inland lighthouse left standing in North Carolina.

In 1958 a silo-style lighthouse was built at the Oak Island Coast Guard Station. Its purpose was to assume the duties of the discontinued tower on Bald Head Island.

The Oak Island Lighthouse stands 169 feet tall and has eight-inch-thick reinforced concrete walls. The foundation is 70 feet deep and rests firmly on bedrock. The paint is integrated into the concrete, the top third black, middle third white, and bottom third gray. The tower never has to be painted. The main light is a rotating, four-arrow beacon. Each light is lit with 1000-watt bulbs that can be seen 24 nautical miles offshore. It is one of the last manually operated lighthouses in the United States.

Source: North Carolina Lighthouses, David Stick.

[Text was originally published in the December 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter – images were added in 2015]

 

[Additional Resources – Lighthouses]

Bald Head: The History of Smith Island and Cape Fear – FPHPS article

Frying Pan Shoals Light

Lights of the Lower Cape Fear – Some Important Dates

Graveyard of the Atlantic – by David Strick – Book available in the History Center Bookstore

North Carolina Lighthouses: Stories of History and Hope
by Bruce Roberts and Cheryl Shelton-Roberts – Book available in History Center Bookstore

North Carolina Lighthouses – web-based history, pictures …

Federal Point Light – Wikipedia –  showing 2015 active & decommissioned NC lighthouses (at the bottom of page)

List of lighthouses in North Carolina (active and decommissioned)