Photos by Cheryl Landes
The current lighthouse at the Bodie Island Light Station at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks of North Carolina is the third lighthouse built in the area.
The first, built in 1847 on Pea Island south of Bodie Island, was doomed from the start. Congress had trouble buying the land, which delayed construction. Then the overseer of the project, who didn’t have experience building lighthouses, ordered the architect to lay an unsupported brick foundation despite the architect’s contrary advice. The lighthouse began leaning within two years after it was built. A series of repairs never resolved the problem, so the lighthouse was abandoned in 1859.
The lighthouse was rebuilt in 1859 with a proper foundation, but it fell victim to the Civil War. Confederate troops, who feared the Union Army would use the lighthouse, blew it up while they retreated in 1861.
In 1871, the U.S. Government bought a 15-acre parcel on Bodie Island from John Etheridge and built the current lighthouse. Construction was completed in 1872. The lighthouse is still in operation, helping guide sailors along Cape Hatteras. The light was automated in 1932, which eliminated the need for a lighthouse keeper.
All of the property, except for the lighthouse, was transferred to the National Park Service in 1953. The keeper’s quarters are now the ranger station and visitor center for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Self-guided tours of the lighthouse are available.