“It’s unbelievable. I mean you can see forever and what’s neat is you can see in the water where the channels are and the sandbars are and how the tide affects it and comes and goes” said Scott Noles, who was visiting North Carolina from Texas.
Cape Lookout is often referred to as one of North Carolina’s best kept secrets, and it’s not hard to see why. But the shifting landscape that makes it so beautiful has been problematic to sailors for centuries.
(Karen Duggan, a park ranger with the Cape Lookout National Seashore, explains:
“There’s an attempt to warn people off of the shoals in the shallow areas sticking off the Cape. And basically the lighthouse is saying don’t run into what I’m sitting on.”
The first light station, built here in 1812, wasn’t tall enough and didn’t shine bright enough. So, it was replaced by the current version in 1859. It’s the only one along the Outer Banks that was built before the Civil War.
“She’s a little plainer, a little smaller than the others. She was built by a slightly different set of plans. But she also matches other lighthouses that were built up and down the coast just before the war” said Duggan.
And the fact that it hasn’t changed much since then only adds to its charm.
“You are walking directly in the footsteps of the keepers. There’s been very little change to this lighthouse so if you want to come out and try to be a lighthouse keeper, here’s a good place to come” explained Duggan.
207 steps take you up 163 feet to the top for spectacular views. But getting here to climb it in the first place, isn’t as simple as just hopping in your car.
The only way to get to this lighthouse is by boat, but the ferry trip over is well worth it. Despite the boat ride…this lighthouse still has a way of drawing people in.
“It’s significance and it’s age and kinda why it was here to begin with and how it’s lasted through parts of the Civil War so we decided we needed to come check it out and that’s why we’re here” said Noles.
Like at Bodie Island, Confederate troops also attempted to blow up this light station at Cape Lookout. But their efforts here went up in smoke…literally.
Duggan explains: “All the force, instead of going out into the walls and doing anything, it went straight up the staircase. So the force went straight up, damaged the lower levels of stairs and blew out all the glass.”
After surviving the war, in 1873, the tower received what would come to be a unique paint job. At the time, the idea was to repeat a set of three different white and black patterns up and down the coast. But Cape Lookout is the only one that ended up with the diagonal checker.
“They lined it up against the compass…north, south, east, west. So as you walk around, dark diamonds are facing north or south and white diamonds are facing east or west” said Duggan.
If visiting a charming lighthouse that hasn’t changed much in over 150 years or feeling at times like you’re on a deserted island are more your style, then the Cape Lookout lighthouse is definitely for you.