Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ocracoke Lighthouse. Part 5.

Our next stop on Ocracoke was a visit to the Ocracoke Lighthouse. In 1715, an act was passed to establish Ocracoke Island as a port to help improve trade and navigation around the coast. By 1730, more people arrived on the island to serve as pilots, navigating the shallow waters and shoals of the sound in smaller crafts to help with trade in North Carolina. The pilots were greatly hampered in their work by pirates, who made peaceful commerce almost impossible along the North Carolina Coast. The most infamous of pirates was Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach, who roamed from the Caribbean to Virginia robbing ships. With commercial ships using Ocracoke Inlet to access inland ports, Blackbeard found this area ripe for easy pickings. Blackbeard pretty much terrorized the area for 18 months and he had also bribed the Colonial Governor, Charles Eden, to ignore his criminal activities. North Carolina residents and shipping merchants appealed to Governor Spotswood of Virginia for help. Blackbeard was finally captured near Ocracoke by Lt. Robert Maynard of the British Navy. Sent by the Governor of Virginia, Maynard killed Blackbeard in a bloody duel thus marking the end of large scale piracy on the Atlantic Coast. By the 1820's, Ocracoke had become a major shipping port. With the increase in population and trade, the colonists decided they needed a lighthouse to help vessels maneuver the inlet. Jacob Gaskill purchased 2 acres near Silver Lake Harbor for $50, the lighthouse was approved for construction in 1822, and was built and lit by 1823. A Light For Ocracoke Inlet The first lighthouse at Ocracoke Inlet was the 1798 Shellcastle Rock lighthouse located on an island in the inlet. In such a location - defenseless against storms, tides, and winds - the lighthouse was often inoperative when needed most. Thus, in 1823, it was replaced by this light, the Nation's second oldest still in use. The non-rotating light is 75 feet above sea level and can be seen a full 360 degrees to a distance of fourteen miles. The walls are five feet thick at the base and are made of brick with a mortar surface. The two story structure on your right originally housed the lighthouse keeper and his family. Today it is a private residence. The small black building formerly provided storage for lamp fuel. Whale oil, porpoise oil and kerosene have all served as fuel for the light. Today the light is electric and this building houses an auxiliary generator. The lighthouse is owned and maintained by the United States Coast Guard and is closed to the public.
And here's Mr. Hawthorne in his pineapple shirt.
Ocracoke Lighthouse is North Carolina's oldest operating lighthouse. Lighthouses have been around for thousands of years. The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt, is considered the first known lighthouse and it was completed in the 3rd century, B.C.. In 1716, the first lighthouse believed to be erected in the New World, was built at the entrance to Boston Harbor. Sandy Hook, NJ lighthouse, built in 1764, is the only surviving colonial lighthouse and is the oldest active lighthouse in the United States.
In 1798, Shellcastle Rock Lighthouse, a 54 foot wooden tower was built on the point of Ocracoke Inlet to mark the channel. The inlet shifted not long after, rendering the lighthouse ineffective. By 1818, the sand bars had changed so much that the lighthouse was a mile away from the inlet. That same year, both the lighthouse and the keeper's house were destroyed by lightning. In 1820, it was replaced by another light vessel, but by 1822, this structure was rendered useless yet again by shifting sands and Congress authorized funding to build the present tower, erected in 1823, and a keeper's cottage. Noah Porter, a Massachusetts builder, was commissioned to build the lighthouse. The lighthouse was to be coated with a formula of lime, salt, ground rice, whiting, and clear glue, which was mixed with boiling water and applied to the bricks while hot. Porter completed the project the next year and came in under budget at $11,359, considerably less that the $20,000 the government had budgeted. In the 1900's the light was electrified and today the lighthouse casts a stationary beam visible for fourteen miles. The lighthouse stands 75 feet tall and is the shortest lighthouse on the North Carolina coast. It's diameter narrows from 25 feet at the base to 12 feet at its peak. The walls are solid brick, 5 feet thick at the bottom tapering to 2 feet thick at the top. During hurricanes, the light station and the keeper's home, situated on higher ground, served as a place of refuge for some of the locals.


Marilyn said...

You know, I've always wondered why the US Department of the Interior is in charge of the outdoors.

I love lighthouses. Of course, I've never actually seen a real lighthouse...

Rosie Hawthorne said...

It's like the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Who would lump together alcohol and firearms?