Roger Bansemer

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Information and illustrations about Ocracoke lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.
Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Island, N.C.
1803 1823

Ocracoke Lighthouse
Ocracoke Lighthouse © Roger Bansemer
The Ocracoke lighthouse stands in the distance as fishing boats surround the area in this delightful town.
Ocracoke Island lighthouse print
 

Ocracoke Lighthouse
Ocracoke Lighthouse © Roger Bansemer
The lantern room at the Ocracoke lighthouse is off center from lighthouse
to accommodate the ladder that leads to the top of the light.

Ocracoke Island lighthouse print
Original Painting also available


The small island community of Ocracoke is also the site of the oldest lighthouse still operating in North Carolina. Built in 1823, it’s considered an inlet light rather than a coastal light but that made it no less important as it guided an average of one hundred oceangoing vessels a month into the Ocracoke Inlet during the mid 1800’s. An earlier lighthouse built of wood in the late 1700’s was built on nearby Shell Castle Island but was destroyed by a lightning fire in the early 1800’s, just fifteen years after it was completed. It never worked out very well anyway as sand bars changed and the channel kept shifting to where the light was one mile from the inlet. A light vessel was used in the Ocracoke Inlet to replace the lighthouse but it didn’t work out very well either so Congress approved that a new lighthouse be built on Ocracoke at a cost of just over $11,000 which included the cost of the keepers house.

The Ocracoke lighthouse stands today as it has for over a century and a half although some changes have been made over the years. The wooden stairs were replaced with ones made of steel after World War II and the two story keepers house that stands now was originally a one story dwelling. The Coast Guard used it when the lighthouse was manned and after automation in 1946, they continued to use it for Coast Guard personal. Now the National Park Service owns it all and the Coast Guard is only responsible to keep the light burning. The lighthouse is not very tall, standing only seventy-six high but considering it is a harbor light it didn’t need to be as tall as lights guiding ships up and down the coast. It’s the shortest navigational light on the Atlantic Coast. Even at that, the sixty-five foot lighthouse with its 8,000 candlepower fixed white light is visible up to fourteen miles out to sea.

During the Civil War, the lens was removed by the Confederates as were so many but it was replaced after the war was over and has been lit ever since. The oil house where whale oil was once stored still remains next to the light. Kerosene was used later and now of course electricity powers the fully automated light. The lighthouse is made of brick but is covered with masonry as opposed to the many that maintain their brick exterior weather painted or not. Ocracoke has always been painted white but the formula set forth by the U.S. Lighthouse Board was quite unusual. It consisted of ingredients including a half bushel of lime, a peck of salt, three pounds of ground rice, a half pound of whiting, and a pound of clear glue. That would all be mixed in boiling water then applied as hot as possible to the outside of the lighthouse.

A story about Ocracoke wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Edward Teach better known as the pirate Blackbeard. He once used Ocracoke as one of his anchorage’s and hideouts. He was especially known around the Caribbean but came to know Ocracoke as one of his homes in 1718. He owned, or better described stole, four ships and had four hundred pirates under his control. His lifelong illegal activities finally caught up with him at Ocracoke during a vicious and bloody battle. Accounts vary but some say that he lost his life only after he receiving five pistol wounds, twenty stab wounds and a deep gash to his neck caused by a cutlass. Legends tend to grow over the years.

Permanent residents on Ocracoke only number seven hundred but many thousands more visit every year. When I talked to the visitors center they told me that 90,000 people come through their facility every year and that 30,000 of them visit the lighthouse. Although the lighthouse isn’t open to the public, visitors are welcome to walk around the grounds.

The only way to get here is by ferry. From May through October a free ferry runs about every half hour between Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke. From November through April it runs every hour, 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Another ferry runs between Cedar Island, northeast of Morehead City and the Beaufort area five times a day for a cost of $10. A ferry also runs from the town of Swan Quarter to Ocracoke a three times a day and also has a fee of $10.

Roger Bansemer©

Ocracoke Lighthouse Map, outer banks NC