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Ocracoke Lighthouse Gets a Makeover

A lighthouse stands behind a foreground of trees and a red-roofed house

National Park Service Plans a Major Rehab of Historic "Ocracoke Light"

The blazing white Ocracoke Light has survived plenty in its almost two centuries of guiding the way for mariners.

The lighthouse in the heart of Ocracoke Village was built to help guide ships through Ocracoke Inlet into Pamlico Sound. It’s the second oldest operating light station in the nation.

The current light has 8000 candlepower and can be seen 14 miles out to sea. It was automated in 1955.

Future-proofing a Guiding Light

The wear and tear from past storms and the prospects of more problems from future storms, fueled by climate change, has convinced the National Park Service to make plans for a major rehab of the lighthouse and the supporting buildings at the light station.

The park service has approved plans to elevate the keepers’ quarters by four feet and raise the carpenter’s shop, store house, privy and generator house by two feet. The lighthouse itself and the oil house will not be elevated.

All buildings and structures will also be repaired and painted.

“Elevating most of the structures at the Ocracoke Light Station is an important step in adapting to potentially stronger storms and higher water levels,” said David Hallac, Superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. “After detailed designs are completed in the next year, the park service will begin the process of selecting contractors to do the elevation and rehabilitation work to these important buildings.”

Ocracoke Light stands 75 feet tall. The diameter of the lighthouse starts at 25 feet at the base but narrows to 12 feet at the peak. The walls are solid brick, five feet thick at the base tapering to two feet at the top.

Marker Will Keep its Iconic Appearance

The lighthouse’s solid white paint will stay, as it has been the identifying mark to seafarers since it was built.  The park service says the original whitewash “recipe” called for mixing lime, salt, Spanish whiting, rice, glue and boiling water. The mixture was applied while still hot. A different mix will be used now.

The rehab plans approved include:

  • Remove the shotcrete from the exterior of the lighthouse and replace with a coating that will protect the masonry and provide moisture control.
  • Replace damaged masonry.
  • Repair or replace windows with historically appropriate windows.
  • Repair leaks at the top lantern and repaint.
  • Repair and re-coat interior masonry.


The park service is also considering replacing the interior metal staircase with a wooden spiral staircase to match the original material and orientation.

That’s right, the original spiral staircase in the lighthouse was made of wood! It was built into the inside of the interior wall. Those steps were replaced with metal stairs in the 1950s because the wood was rotting.

PBS North Carolina and Sci NC appreciate the support of The NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

PBS North Carolina and Sci NC appreciate the support of The NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.