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Mardi, 01 Novembre 2011 11:30

Nov. 1, 1859: A Welcome Sight for Those in Peril Upon the Sea

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Nov. 1, 1859: A Welcome Sight for Those in Peril Upon the Sea

1859: The second lighthouse at Cape Lookout, North Carolina, is lit for the first time.

Cape Lookout is situated along the Outer Banks, a treacherous stretch of coastal shoals and storm-tossed seas that has always presented a navigation hazard to mariners. The original lighthouse, built in 1812, proved an unreliable navigational aid, so Congress appropriated $40,000 (about $1 million in current dollars) for the construction of a much larger lighthouse.

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse stands 163 feet high — almost 70 feet taller than its predecessor — and its powerful Fresnel lens casts a light that is visible up to 19 miles out to sea. This was a marked improvement over the original and set the standard for lighthouses up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Painted in a distinctive black-and-white diamond pattern, the tower is itself a navigational aid, at least in fair weather.

The lighthouse, with 9-foot-thick walls at its base, was built to withstand the pounding made inevitable by its exposed location. It would ultimately save the structure — but from a landward threat.

Just 18 months after the lighthouse opened, North Carolina seceded from the Union. As Union troops advanced through the Carolinas in 1862, retreating Confederates destroyed a number of lighthouses, including the Cape Hatteras light. They tried to blow up the Cape Lookout light, too, but those 9-foot-thick walls defeated them. They did, however, succeed in damaging the lens, knocking the lighthouse out of service.

After the war, repairs were made, and the lighthouse has remained in continuous service since. The last resident keeper left in 1950, when the lighthouse was fully automated. In 1972, the original Fresnel lens was replaced by two 1,000-watt aerobeacons, each measuring 24-inches across.


Photo: David Muench/Corbis

This article first appeared on Nov. 1, 2007.


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