Large shade trees and well-manicured shrubbery are all part of
the present day Currituck lighthouse setting where you can spend a relaxing few hours
while sitting in one of the green rocking chairs along the red brick walkways. It
didnt always look like this however. When the lighthouse was first lit in 1875 there
was very little foliage and trees around the grounds or on any of the Outer Bank islands
in general. It was primarily sand dunes, desolate and barren. Few trees grew as there was
little to hold the sand in place for vegetation to get a foothold. In the 1930s the
Civilian Conservation Corp began to haul shipwrecks that literally covered the beaches up
into the dune line creating a barrier to prevent erosion. Vegetation was then planted
which began the stabilization of these islands.
Today the dunes around the Currituck lighthouse are covered with large homes and the area has been built up
considerably. Arriving at the lighthouse it is a welcomed visual relief from all the
development. Building the lighthouse, along with the lighthouses to the south including Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras, and Cape Lookout was a difficult task. It is very shallow in
this area and ships had to offload their supplies including the million bricks it took to
build the lighthouse onto smaller shallow draft boats as far as eight miles offshore. They
in turn brought the material to the backside of the island where it was transferred to a
long dock and then onto a tramway that led to where construction was taking place. Of the
four lighthouses on the Outer Banks, all very similar in design, it was decided that the
Currituck Beach lighthouse be left its natural brick color after it was built to help
distinguish it from the others that are all painted with distinctive stripes and bands.
The Victorian stick-style two story keepers house is a duplex, split vertically in the
middle with both sides being the same and each side having its own cistern for water.
Originally the Currituck lighthouse was constructed from pre-cut materials each piece was labeled and shipped by the
U.S. Lighthouse Board on a barge and then assembled on site. Babies were born here at the
lighthouse and those children schooled here but when the lighthouse was automated in 1939
it eliminated the need for a keeper and the house began to deteriorate almost beyond
repair. Doors and windows were broken or missing and the porches had fallen in. Vines
covered the outside and parts of the inside as well.
In 1980 the Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc. began restoring what was left of the
structure. Today it is beautifully restored and you never would guess that it was once
about to fall down entirely. It is complete with period furnishings but used only on
special occasions. Thanks to organizations such as these, the rest of us are able to enjoy
these wonderful treasures from the past. They have done a remarkable job and even though
originally pre-fabricated, the keepers house imparts a sense of how beautifully things
were made and the caring way they were constructed. I think it must have gone along with
values in general back when this lighthouse was the most important structure on the beach.
A second and smaller keepers house also sits near the keepers house. It was moved to
the island around 1920 as a residence for a third keeper and his family. That too has been
restored and serves as a museum shop. Best of all, you can climb the 214 steps to the top
of the 162 foot lighthouse and be rewarded with a grand view of the island. Climbers are
restricted from the gallery only during bad weather or high winds. The lighthouse is open
to the public every day from Easter through Thanksgiving. During the height of the summer
season almost a thousand people a day visit the light and beautifully kept grounds. A
nearby boardwalk from the lighthouse leading down to the inland side of the island offers
a distant view of the tower and a chance to view nature at its quietest moments.
You cant talk about the Outer Banks without mentioning the wild Spanish mustangs.
Thought to have come ashore from the wrecks of galleons some four hundred years ago, these
horses once roamed freely along the shores. In 1926 there were an estimated six thousand
horses on the Outer Banks. In recent years however, roads have been extended through
Corolla opening the northern Outer Banks to unprecedented development. More and more of
the horses were being hit and killed by automobiles so many were relocated and today there
are only about fifty horses remaining. With the exception of a stray horse now and then,
the very northern end of the beach is the only place to see these marvelous Corolla horses
which are distinct from the other wild horses on the outer banks. This twelve-mile
relatively undeveloped section of beach covering 15,000 acres has been fenced in for their
Not far to the south from the lighthouse at Corolla is Kitty Hawk, where the Wright
Brothers first took to the air. The lighthouse played a subtle but large part in the
history of early flight. It happened when the wife of lighthouse keeper W.J. Tate received
a letter from Wilbur Wright asking for a report on the lay of the land in regard to hills
around nearby Kitty Hawk and information about weather conditions in that area. She
replied with a full accounting and several months later Wilbur arrived by boat followed by
brother Orville. The Tates hosted them and during this time the obliging lighthouse keeper
and his wife lent their moral support despite ridicule of the project from most others.
They also gave them a place to construct one of their experimental gliders and helped sew
the fabric for the wings. Friends from the start, they remained so throughout their lives.
Orville and Wilber Wright flipped a coin to see who would test out their aircraft made
of wood and fabric and Orville won the toss. December 17, 1903 went down in history as he
flew for twelve seconds and 120 feet for mans first successful powered flight at nearby
Kill Devil Hill. They subsequently made over a thousand flights from the high dunes. A
memorial to the Wrights and their achievements at Kill Devil Hills is open to the public