The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is the northernmost lighthouse on the Outer Banks and the last one to be built. It stands in the town of Corolla. Lighthouses used to be critical to the navigation of ships traveling up and down the coast. Each Outer Banks lighthouse has a unique color scheme and flash. The Currituck Beach light flashes for three seconds every twenty seconds. Prior to electronic navigation devices, mariners ten miles out could see this flash at night. During the day they could see its distinctive brick color. Seeing the lighthouse gives you a good idea of your location.
Views from Top
The view from the top is equisite. Soaring 158’ above the Whalehead Club at its feet, are the many homes of Corolla. Looking east and out to sea, ships far offshore look like miniature replicas. The surf breaking on the beach is a ribbon of white. To the south, homes and businesses merge as NC 12 heads to Duck. Currituck Sound spreads out to the west with many islands dotting the nearshore. Look carefully north and west and there is an island that seems to float alone in the sound.
Really good eyesight, binoculars or a telephoto lens will show a rundown building and a pier on the island. That’s Monkey Island, named after the Pamunkey Indians who used the island as a hunting area at one time. The abandoned building is what is left of the Monkey Island Club, one of the most storied hunting clubs of Currituck Sound.
The first order Fresnel lens was first illuminated on December 1, 1875 eliminating the the last dark stretch of ocean along the Eastern Seaboard. For some time the US Government knew a light was needed at Currituck Beach. As early as 1854 funds were set aside for the lighthouse. Unfortunately, the Civil War intervened. After the war the the government focused on repairing damaged lighthouses, and in some cases, where retreating Confederate forces had destroyed a lighthouse, building a new one. Bodie Island Lighthouse just south of Nags Head was one of the replacement lighthouses.
By 1872, though, the new Bodie Island lighthouse was nearing completion, and the Lighthouse Board, the government agency overseeing the nation’s lighthouses, turned its focus to the last stretch of unlit coast.
“With the completion of the Light house at Body’s Island (original spelling for Bodie Island) there will remain only one important interval of unlighted coast on the Atlantic (coast)…” an 1872 Lighthouse Board report noted. “That dark space will be embraced between Cape Henry and Body’s Island, a distance of eighty miles and an unlighted space of forty miles…”
The Lighthouse Board moved quickly to light the dark shoreline between Cape Henry and Bodie Island. Finally, in 1873 land was purchased and by June of the following year the work began on the foundation.
The lighthouse tower looks very similar to the Bodie Island and Hatteras Lighthouses—and for good reason. It was built to the same plan. With double-walled construction, the American engineers improved on what they saw in Europe.
The Europeans were using a central cylinder of brick with an exterior an exterior conical wall that met the interior wall near the top. The American designers eliminated the air space between the two walls and created a larger interior space and stronger structure.
Another reason the Currituck Beach Lighthouse looks so much like the other lighthouses on the Outer Banks is Dexter Stetson was the construction supervisor on all three projects.
A native of Massachusetts, it was Stetson who came up with the ingenious idea to place the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on a floating foundation of yellow pine beams laid in a crosshatched pattern. Because the water table was too high at Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island, a standard foundation was not possible.
He reasoned, correctly, that the water would preserve the wood. These yellow pine beams remained solid until the Hatteras Lighthouse was moved in 1999.
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse did not need a floating foundation and is built on a standard foundation of pilings pounded into the ground.
In 1939 the US Coast Guard automated the light and took over responsibility for it. There’s an interesting footnote to history when the Coast Guard automating the light. The last lighthouse keeper at Currituck Beach was William Tate, the same man who welcomed the Wright Brothers to Kitty Hawk and opened up his house to them in 1900.
Today the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and grounds are owned and maintained by the Outer Banks Conservationists. Climbing the lighthouse is offered most of the year. For more information about fees and restrictions, contact the Outer Banks Conservationists.