The Five Lighthouses of the Outer Banks – Part Three
The Bodie Island Lighthouse
Staggered along the coast of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, are five historic and inviting lighthouses, each with a story to tell. The lighthouses are the actual buildings that house the light that warns vessels of danger, while the term light station refers to the buildings that form the complex (lighthouse, light keeper house etc.).
Recap from Part One
“Prior to our visit to the Outer Banks, I confess to being totally in the dark about the five lighthouses. My husband, who was accompanying me, and I arrived in Nags Head for a three-month winter stay in January 2020, and the idea was to walk the beaches, enjoy the water views, and I was hoping the ocean would be an inspiration as I finished my next book, which focuses on cruising. We also thought we might see a few of the sights that we had heard about on a quick visit to Nags Head in 2018.
One day, while looking at items in one of the ubiquitous antiques stores in the Outer Banks, I found some old postcards of the area and I came across two depicting lighthouses. I asked the proprietor about the subject of the postcards and he told me about the five lighthouses located nearby. Once back at our rental home, a little internet research produced more information and we were soon set to start out on our lighthouse exploration.”
The Bodie Island Lighthouse is located near Nags Head, just south of the Whalebone Junction and Coquina Beach. It was the closest lighthouse to the house I had rented and it would have been a quick drive to see it, if I had known earlier that it was nearby. As it happened, it was not until 7 weeks had passed before I learned of its existence and another 4 weeks before I got around to visiting it. My husband and I had driven by it numerous times without realizing it was that close to us as it was not readily visible from the highway unless you are specifically looking for it. To get to the light station you will have to take the Bodie Island Lighthouse Road which runs off Highway 12. Once at the station you will find ample parking and the lighthouse tucked in behind two white buildings. It is set in a large field of solid ground surrounded by marshland. There did not seem to be much of anything else there other than the lighthouse and the two buildings.
The history of the lighthouse is tied to the dangerous shoals and shifting sandbars of the area. The lighthouse was built to supplement the Cape Hatteras light house located further south and the subject of an earlier blog. The cape was deemed so dangerous that other lighthouses needed to be built to aid the vessels navigating those coastal waters. In 1837, Lieutenant Napoleon L. Cotste was sent by the federal government to examine the coastline and his recommendation of Bodie Island as a possible site for a lighthouse was punctuated with dire warning that a high number of vessels were lost in this area of the coast.
Interestingly, the lighthouse is located on the Croatan Sound side and set away from the Atlantic coast. I don’t believe this is an issue though as the peninsula is very narrow at that point and if looking from a high point, it is easy to see both the Atlantic and Croatan Sound with the naked eye.
Standing 156 feet tall and sporting black and white horizontal-stripes, you will see from my pictures that the structure is located behind a white house which contains the visitors center with a small gift shop and offices for the Ranger (who is part of the National Park Services).
The light station is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and I found it similar in appearance to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Aside from the differences in the painting of the stripes, the black and white colour and overall appearance is similar. Its rotational light is visible for approximately 19 nautical miles so it is clearly an asset to coastal navigation. You can climb the 214 steps of the lighthouse and enjoy the fabulous views of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Croatan Sound.
From the top of the lighthouse, we searched afar for signs of the wild ponies we were told were often near the lighthouse. Instead of horses, we saw deer in the marshes. In conversation with staff at the visitor center, we were told that the presence of deer in the area was probably due to it being the quiet season and that the wild horses were usually found at the northernmost beaches of the Outer Banks and in closer proximity to the Currituck Lighthouse. I think our local source of information had been a little confused over the location of the horses but given we were there for the lighthouse, we were not bothered and made note to look for the horses near the Currituck lighthouse which was our next place to visit.
While speaking with some of the National Park Service staff, I learned that this lighthouse was not the original lighthouse built. In fact, it was the third. The first was built on Pea Island by a fellow named Thomas Blount who apparently lacked the necessary lighthouse building experience to understand the need for a stable base for such a tall structure. When the lighthouse he built in 1847 started to lean in 1849, its base had to be shored up and supported. This went on until 1859 when it was decided to simply give up and the lighthouse was abandoned. The second lighthouse was also built on Pea Island in 1859 but it fell victim to the Confederate troops who blew it up two years later, in 1861, as they were retreating from the Union forces. Since we were told Pea Island is now underwater, the lighthouse would have required a move at some point if it had survived the Civil War.
The third and current lighthouse was built in 1871, which means that part of the coast was unprotected for ten years. At some point I intend to look up the number of vessels lost during that time frame since it was labeled such a dangerous part of the coast.
Electrified in 1932, and transferred to the National Park Service in 1953, the now automated lighthouse continues to warn vessels of the dangers of the coastal waters.
We enjoyed our visit to this lighthouse and found the staff here to be most helpful and informative. Perhaps due to it being the quiet time of year, we were afforded extra time and attention which made this stop special and memorable.
As usual, if you have any comments or questions about this blog entry, please feel free to contact me or post your comment.