By the mid 1830’s, navigational markers had been established at Cape Henry, VA and at Cape Hatteras, NC. Located about 150 miles apart, these two navigational markers could only be seen for about 20 miles from each respective light station. Mariners who were making the trip north from Hatteras or south from Cape Henry were left on their own to navigate the area off the northern North Carolina coast.
As more and more ships were being lost while traveling between these two points, the Lighthouse Board received a $5,000 appropriation from Congress to build a lighthouse to interrupt this dark spot. Although the first spot chosen for the lighthouse was the northern end of Pea Island, Bodie Island was decided to be the best place to establish the light. Once the site was chosen, construction didn’t begin until the summer of 1847. Quarrels over the design and location of the tower and problems purchasing the land for the station delayed construction for ten years.
A highly competent contractor by the name of Francis Gibbons was selected to oversee the construction of the tower. Gibbons wasn’t given the clearance to design the structure, which had already been designed. The tower was to be a short, fifty-four foot tower. As construction began, crews found a muddy bottom below the sands of the Island. Not having clearance to drive piles upon which to build a foundation, crews constructed a small foundation of brick. The tower was completed in 1848, but it wasn’t long before the lighthouse began to lean. It took less than two years for the tower to be more than a foot out of plumb. Spending $1,400 to try and straighten it, the lighthouse continued to lean. In 1959, the tower
To visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse, take Hwy 12 south from Nags Head. Once you enter the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, travel about 8 miles and the lighthouse will be on the right. There is a small sign marking the 1.5-mile road to the lighthouse. If you are interested in life-saving stations, the renovated 1876-Type Bodie Island Station is located across from the entrance to the lighthouse on the beach side of Hwy 12, but the property is off limits to the public.
had deteriorated so much that repair was impractical. Receiving another appropriation from Congress, a new tower was constructed with a stable foundation. This new tower, standing at a height of eighty feet, was fitted with a third-order Fresnel lens. The lamps were first illuminated on July 1, 1859. By 1861, the Civil War was under way. Confederate troops filled the tower with explosives and blew it up.
After the Civil war, the Lighthouse Board began constructing yet another lighthouse on Bodie Island in 1871. Completed the following year in 1872, the lighthouse, standing 156 feet in height, was fitted with a first order Fresnel lens, enabling the light to be seen for nineteen miles at sea. A month after construction was completed; a flock of geese flew into the lantern room and damaged the lens. Repairs were made and the lighthouse continued to aid navigation in the area.
In 1932, the light was automated, and by 1939, the last keeper of the lighthouse was relieved of duties at the station. With the establishment of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the tower was deeded to the National Parks Service, with the lens and light still being maintained by the Coast Guard.
At a passing glance, one would think that the lighthouse is in good condition, but that is not the case. In June of 2004, the lighthouse and oil house received a new paint job after a lead abatement project was completed to remove old lead paint from the interior. The lighthouse is in need of major restoration, something that it has not seen since its construction. The lighthouse is in such need of restoration, that on August 9, 2004, several chuncks of the exterior ironwork fell from the tower. Some of these pieces, weighting as much as 40 lbs, forced the closing of the oil house and base as a safety precaution until inspections are completed. As of this writing, restoration is not scheduled to begin until 2007, and it is expected to cost $2 million.
Another issue, the valuable and fragile Fresnel lens is also in need of a complete restoration. The “efarge which holds the glass prisms in their frame is deteriorating, leaving the prisms endanger of falling out of the frame. The National Park Service, in cooperation with the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society (OBLHS), is working to obtain possession of the lens, in an effort to keep it in the tower. It is believed that the lens could be repaired without having to remove it from the lantern room. Being able to repair the lens in the lantern room helps to ensure that the lens is not removed from the tower and replaced by a modern optic. On June 4, 2004, the OBLHS sponsored an Outer Banks Retreat. One of the events during this retreat was a rare opportunity to climb the lighthouse. Gary Martin, a professional photographer and society member has photos from that climb, including photos of the Fresnel lens available at http://www.coastalbeacons.com/atlanticcoastgallery/Bodie10/Bodie_10.htm.
Today, the lighthouse receives over one hundred thousand visitors each year. The bottom floor of the double keeper's quarters is open to the public as a small museum and gift shop. Occasionally, the oil room and base of the lighthouse are open to the public, as volunteers are available. The light continues to be an active aid to navigation, with a flash pattern of 2.5 seconds on, 2.5 second off, 2.5 seconds on, then 22.5 seconds off. Whether you decide to visit in the early morning, during the day, or at night, this light station gives you the feeling that you have stepped back in time.
The rear view of the keeper's quarters. Notice that the rear looks the same as the front.
The front view of the keeper's quarters. As with a number of other stations, the keeper's quarters was built as a duplex and was home to as many as three families (head keeper and two assistants) during its use.
This sign welcomes visitors to the station.
The front view of the oil house and entrance to the lighthouse.
1871 is etched into granite stone above the doorway, indicating the year the station was first established.
Although visitors are not allowed to climb the tower for saftey reasons, when the base is open, one can look up the spiraling staircase.