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Bodie Island Lighthouse

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Bodie Island Lighthouse Road
Nags Head, NC 27959

In 1837, the federal government sent Lieutenant Napoleon L. Coste of the revenue cutter Campbell to examine the coastline for potential lighthouse sites that would supplement the existing one at Cape Hatteras. Coste determined that southbound ships were in great need of a beacon on or near Bodie Island by which they could fix their position for navigating the dangerous cape. He punctuated his recommendation with the statement that “more vessels are lost there than on any other part of our coast.”

Congress responded with an appropriation for a lighthouse that same year, but complications over purchasing the necessary land delayed construction until 1847. This was but the first of many problems. Though the skillful Francis Gibbons was contracted as engineer, the project’s overseer was a former Customs official named Thomas Blount, who unfortunately, had no lighthouse experience at all. This proved disastrous when Blount ordered an unsupported brick foundation laid, despite Gibbons’ recommendations to the contrary. As a result, the 54-foot tower began to lean within two years after completion. Numerous expensive repairs failed to rectify the problem and the lighthouse had to be abandoned in 1859.

The second lighthouse fared little better than its wobbly predecessor. Though funded, contracted, and completed in prompt fashion at a nearby site in 1859, it soon succumbed to an unforeseen danger - the Civil War. Fearing that the 80-foot tower would be used by Union forces, retreating Confederate troops blew it up in 1861.

The Bodie Island Lighthouse was completed in 1872.
After the war, the coast near Bodie Island remained dark for several years while a replacement tower was considered by the Lighthouse Board. Though the Board was disposed against the idea, numerous petitions came in from concerned ship captains and, finally, it decided in favor of a third Bodie Island Lighthouse. Still, it was not until 1871 that construction began. The first two Bodie Island Lights had been located south of Oregon Inlet, actually on Pea Island.

The new 15-acre site, purchased by the government for $150.00 from John Etheridge, was north of the inlet. Work crews, equipment, and materials from the recent lighthouse project at Cape Hatteras were used to build necessary loading docks, dwellings, and facilities. Government contracts brought bricks and stone from Baltimore firms and ironwork from a New York foundry. Construction of the tower proceeded smoothly and it first exhibited its light, magnified by a powerful first-order Fresnel lens, on October 1, 1872. The keepers' quarters duplex was completed soon thereafter.

NOTE: Text courtesy NPS.GOV website

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