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Ocracoke Light Station

Ocracoke Island, Hyde Co., North Carolina (March 2012)

Also be sure to see the Travel/Geography Blog

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke, North Carolina

The primary reason we went through the trouble of riding the ferry to Ocracoke Island from Hatteras was to see the old lighthouse. This version was constructed in 1823 although a lighthouse has been watching over Ocracoke Inlet since 1795. The need had long been established -- English explorers first wrecked a ship here in 1585 -- but it took awhile before it was considered a necessity. Before that, Ocracoke served as a hideout for Edward Teach, the nefarious Blackbeard the Pirate, who finally met his demise here in the early Eighteenth Century. These were treacherous waters in more ways than one. Law-and-order gradually took hold and protected ports on the inland side of the sound such as Elizabeth City and New Bern began to grow in prominence and economic importance. However, there was still only one easy way past the Outer Banks and into the sound: the dangerous passage between Ocracoke and Portsmouth Islands. A lighthouse was considered imperative to guide navigators through the difficult waters.

An initial attempt failed, a wooden tower that found itself a mile away from where it needed to be as the channel shifted over the next couple of decades. The current one however, built at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, succeeded. The Ocracoke Light was a target during the Civil War just as were the other Outer Banks lighthouses. It didn't suffer as badly as some of the others, though. Confederate forces dismantled the Fresnel lens but Union forces were later able to reinstall it. The remainder of its life has been rather more sedate, performing its duties now coming up on two centuries.

North Carolina Lighthouse

Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters

Ocracoke Island Light stands at a somewhat diminutive 65 feet with a focal plane of 75 feet (its built onto a small rise of land that has proved to be quite an advantage during hurricanes that occasionally sweet the Outer Banks). It's a masonry structure covered in mortar and painted in white. The optic is a 4th Order Fresnel Lens that was automated in 1955. A 2-story Lighthouse Keepers quarters graces the same property, used as housing for National Park Service employees. Nearly the entirety of Ocracoke Island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, including a visitors center on the Island. Thus, there are plenty of park rangers on Ocracoke at any given time and they have to live somewhere. However, since the light continues to serve as an active aid to navigation and the quarters serve as a residence for park rangers, the facilities are not open to tourists. There is a wooden boardwalk that runs from a small parking area so that people can walk to the base of the lighthouse, but that's as close as you can get.

Still, there are plenty of other things to do on Ocracoke Island, from exploring the town through enjoying the unspoiled natural beauty of the dunes. So after traveling across from Hatteras on the ferry, driving down the length of Ocracoke and spending a few minutes at the lighthouse, it's still a great journey with more of the island left to discover.

Readers who have an interest in lighthouses might also want to check my Lighthouse Index page.