Roger Bansemer

Ph. 904-347-0561



Information and illustrations about Cape Lookout lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Cape Lookout, North Carolina
1812 and 1859

Cape Lookout Lighthouse, Cape Lookout NC
Information and illustrations about Cape Lookout lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.©
Cape Lookout lighthouse print

Original painting also available

Shoals extending out ten miles into the Atlantic make this area around Cape Lookout extremely hazardous to shipping especially in the early days of sail and steam. It was nicknamed the "Horrible Headland" by many mariners and a necessary place for a lighthouse. The first lighthouse at this site was built in 1912 and was quite different than other lighthouses of the day. It had an inner tower built of brick with an outer shell constructed of wood. It rose to a height of 104 feet but its light was not very effective and seamen often complained about it. It was replaced in 1859 with the current lighthouse rising 150 feet high and crowned with a first-order Fresnel lens. During the Civil War the Confederates badly damaged the lens and a third-order lens was put in its place. After the war the first-order lens was repaired and is back and operating to this day. The wooden staircase up the lighthouse was used only four years when it was replaced with a metal one to lessen the fire hazard.

Erosion is always a threat to lighthouses and the Cape Lookout lighthouse hasn’t escaped mother natures plans. It’s been a little different here however, as it is not the Atlantic side of the island that is disappearing. In fact the ocean side has actually built up over past years. It’s the inlet side, nearer to the lighthouse that is loosing ground. The channel and tidal currents have cut almost a thousand feet of beach from in front of the lighthouse in recent years. The keepers house now stands only about twenty  feet from the high tide mark. In order to help save what is left of the beach, an old channel was dredged and reopened diverting much of the water flow to other areas and somewhat reduced the risk of further erosion to the beach.

The lighthouse doesn’t have many trees or vegetation around it like so many other lighthouses I have visited so the full impact of its size and strength can be realized when looking at it from most any angle. Being an old sign painter, I wondered how they drew those large black and white diamond patterns on the lighthouse but it occurred to me that they are just two opposing spirals that intersect each other. I haven’t found out how they first actually layout the spiral pattern to paint but it appears that the painter would perhaps measure down eight bricks and over four and strike a point. That would give him an angle to draw a straight line. He would then repeat the same procedure all the way down. The spirals appear to be at forty-five degree angles, so if a brick is twice as long as it is high then that formula would be about right. The diamond pattern was painted on the tower in 1873 to increase its effectiveness as a daymark and the nearby town of Diamond City got its name because of the lighthouse pattern.

You won’t be driving your car to Cape Lookout but several ferry services that run from Harkers Island will take you there for a fee of ten dollars. 

there are four ferries on the island that can take you out to the lighthouse and are spread out from one end of Harkers Island to the other. The first ferries will take 12-15 minutes and the ferry on the end takes 10-12 minutes and they take different routes. Actually you get more for your money with the ferry called the "Local Yoke" because you ride down Shackleford Banks through the marshes. All adult fares are $10. Children six and under are $6.00 except the Local Yokel which is $6.00 for 12 and under. It's the only ferry owned and operated by true locals with down East hospitality.

The ferry’s, actually just small power boats, are privately owned and run quite regularly or on demand. It takes about fifteen minutes to get to the island. There is a dock on the island but the boats usually pulls up on the beach for passengers to jump out onto the sand. A ferry also runs from Beaufort.  There are a few small motels on Harkers Island but don’t look for anything very fancy.

If you’re lucky you might see some wild horses on your way out to the lighthouse on nearby Shakleford Banks. Once you get there, the lighthouse is impressive and if you like to take time to examine the little things in nature or to observe the many species of birds it’s a good place to visit but its also a somewhat barren place. Flocks of birds stop here during the spring and fall migrations and in the summer, terns, egrets, herons, and shore birds make this their nesting area.

You can’t get to the top of the lighthouse as it’s not open to the public but you can walk around it. The keepers house is open from April until Thanksgiving. During that time a couple lives in the keepers house and runs the book shop and tends to the displays and the many visitors that come to the island. There are few trees and little shelter on the island. That can make it uncomfortable and very hot in the summer months. If you visit, be sure to bring something to keep from getting sun burned. Insect repellent is also a good idea. There are also 4 wheel drive tours on Cape Lookout that last about 1/12 to 2 hours. Adults $10 -Children 12 and under are $6
Roger Bansemer©

For more information contact the Visitor Center on Harkers Island.  (252) 728-2250.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse
This is an example of a ferry boat that will take you to the Cape Lookout lighthouse.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse, oil house
This is the Kitchen House. Placed apart from the keepers house, it kept things a bit cooler and lessened the chance of fires.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Information and illustrations about Cape Lookout lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.©

Cape Lookout Map