Cape Lookout North Carolina
Harbour Lights #280
Just Released Founder’s Collection. Glow Series. RETIRED
The majestic beauty of North Carolina’s Outer Banks is infamous to nature lovers, historians and mariners. The very same features that make the area picturesque – jagged headlands and sandy shoals – give rise to treacherous waterways. At the south end of the Core Banks lies Cape Lookout, with its notorious Lookout shoals and a historic sentinel.
To warn mariners of the hazards of the “Horrible Headlands”, officials petitioned for a lighthouse in early 1800, completing the tower in 1812. Workers erected a brick sentinel and encased it with a wooden exterior. Then, to make the structure stand out against the sandy beaches, green vegetation and blue sky, painters encircled the tower with red and white horizontal stripes. As a daymark, Cape Lookout was a smashing hit. But in the early morning or late afternoon hours of misty fog, the beacon was all but obscured. Mariners complained of almost running aground because they couldn’t see the light.
To complicate the problem, the lantern’s glass required constant cleaning because the wicks smoked profusely and were difficult to keep trimmed. With thirteen lamps to care for, it was a losing battle. To remedy the situation, a first order Fresnel lens was placed in the tower in 1856.
Now that the brightness of the light was enhanced, the height of the tower needed to be increased as well. A new sentinel was completed in 1859 and the Fresnel lens transferred to the beacon. With a tower height of nearly 169 feet, Cape Lookout became the model for the tall, conical brick coastal lights. Its predecessor, the red and white-banded tower, remained nearby as a distinct daymark for twenty more years. Thankfully, the keeper didn’t have to trim the wicks so often, as the 201 steps to the top surely would have tired even the fittest individual. Now, mariners had nothing but praise for Cape Lookout, for the beacon was visible up to 25 miles out to sea on a clear evening.
Similar to many southern sentinels, Cape Lookout was darkened during the war. Confederate forces destroyed the lamp in one instance and blew up the stairs leading to the lantern room in another. Despite their best efforts, Cape Lookout endured and went on to serve as a model for Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island and other sentinels. It received its black and white-checkered pattern in 1873, after confusion between the different towers ensued. The same year, painters marked the Cape Hatteras tower and the brand new Bodie Island with their distinctive markings.
Cape Lookout was automated in 1950 and serves as an active aid to navigation to this day. Its first order Fresnel lens was transferred to Block Island Southeast Light when workers installed the present DCB-24 optic. The Keeper’s Quarters serve as a museum and the station is included on the North Carolina Registry of Natural Heritage.