Digest>Archives> September 2003

200 Years of Light at Cape Hatteras

By Bruce Roberts


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Celebration will be held at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Buxton, NC on Saturday, Oct 18th marking the 200th Anniversary of the Cape Hatteras Light Station.

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse will be the site of a daylong program of special events marking 200 years of light at Cape Hatteras. The first lighthouse was lighted in the fall of l803 by a keeper appointed by President Thomas Jefferson and there has been a light at Hatteras for 73,000 nights (200 years).

Talks and music about the lighthouse will start at 10 AM and be held throughout the day with the main program at noon featuring music and talks by writers Homer Hickam, David Stick, and Kevin Duffus. The lighthouse will be open for free climbing all day.

Other short events will take place all day long including lifesaving puppet shows for children, Civil War re-enactors, and a lighthouse keeper in uniform to answer questions.

Mary Maden, a children’s author will be entertaining children with stories about the lighthouse. Music will be by Bett Padgett and Hatteras Island Choir members.

All programs are free. The event is co-sponsored by the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society and the National Park Service.

Homer Hickam, author of Torpedo Junction, is best known for his book Rocket Boys which was number 1 on the New York Times best seller list and was later made into the movie October Sky. He will be on hand from 11 AM to 3 PM to sign copies of his new book, The Keeper’s Son, which will be available in October. He is the featured speaker that evening at the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society annual dinner in Nags Head.

The Hatteras event will give the public a chance to talk with the authors who wrote the books about the lighthouse. Writers including Homer Hickam, David Stick, Kevin Duffus, Cheryl-Shelton Roberts and others will be in a big tent near the lighthouse to sign books and talk with people in a very informal setting.

“The U.S. Lighthouse Service provided books for the keepers with their traveling libraries which were rotated among the lighthouses every six months,” said Cheryl Shelton Roberts. “Lighthouse keepers were some of the best-read people in America. thus it’s appropriate for us to feature books,” she added.

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, one of America’s most recognized, photographed and admired lighthouses has a history going back to America’s founding fathers. It wasn’t too long ago that the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was referred to as Hamilton’s light but recent historical research might suggest a different name—Jefferson’s Light.

Not only was the lighthouse completed while Jefferson was in the White House in l803 and the first keeper of the light, Adam Gaskins, appointed by Jefferson,but it also turns out his Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn built the light.

It wasn’t that Jefferson was passing out government contracts to his Cabinet; Dearborn had won the contract in competitive bidding some years earlier to build two lighthouses in North Carolina, the Shell Castle Island Lighthouse near Ocracoke and the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. He did Shell Castle first, finishing it up about 1798, and then was building Cape Hatteras when Jefferson called on him to come to Washington as Secretary of War.

Hamilton’s Light or Jefferson’s Light? How about America’s Light?

Admission to all the events

October 18 at the lighthouse is free.

Tickets for the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society Dinner in Nags Head can be reserved by calling

Betty Parrish at 704-552-2318.

This story appeared in the September 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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