People and Places with Pierce: The Roanoke River Lighthouse 1866

PLYMOUTH, N.C. (WNCT) – “Edenton, Manteo, and ourselves create a riverlight trail,” said Doward Jones with the Washington County Waterways Commission.

First stop on the Albemarle Riverlight Trail: Plymouth. This lighthouse is actually the second of three built in the same spot on the Albemarle Sound.

“We’re sitting in the town of Plymouth and the lighthouse was out in the sound about 100 yards,” explained Jones.

“The first one of this one caught fire after being out there about 7 months and (then came) the second one,” said Brenda Skiles with the Roanoke River Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

“It survived until about 1885 and then it was lost to an ice flow and the last one came in and was built and served until the 1950’s,” added Jones.

The current day Roanoke River Lighthouse is actually a replica of one that was farther down river back in the 1800’s. It was one of over a dozen in the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds that helped light the way for sailors along the Inner Banks.

“They were the GPS so to speak,” explained Jones. “At the time, you didn’t have any navigation systems and they were placed strategically along the different sounds.”

“There was a tremendous amount of traffic that came in and out of here,” said Skiles.

“I always call it Highway 64 1885,” said Jones. “Particularly in the fall with all the crops coming off, this was a very active town. You could travel anywhere you wanted to. You could get here and pay 25 cents to go to Norfolk. Just get on a boat. I always say we were more connected to the world then than we are now.”

Times have changed in Plymouth, but this light still draws many in for a closer look.

“We came up to see some friends that have been here a few days,” said Greg Harbin of Washington, NC. “It’s very nice so far. We’ve really enjoyed it.”

“We looked at this as a history tool but more importantly, it’s an economic tool,” said Jones. “In the late 1990’s, most of the small stores had closed up, all the family businesses had closed, so it was getting to be a ghost town. After we received a grant in 2001, the initial grant, 26 buildings sold downtown in one year which I think is a phenomenal history.”

“This lighthouse right here brings in a lot of tourists, a lot of people coming from the highway that come through, to come downtown and look and see this beautiful building and the river, the gorgeous scenery and seeing what all we do have down here,” added Skiles.

What once served as navigation tool is now a beacon for a small town redefining itself as a destination.


Pierce is always looking for interesting and unique people and places to visit. If you have an idea, send him an email or a message on Facebook or Twitter.


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