The heritage of Roanoke Island, North Carolina, is well represented by the Outer Banks History Center, the North Carolina Maritime Museum, and the Elizabeth II, a reproduction of the ship that brought the colonists who established the first ill-fated English colony in North America in the 1580s. All of these attractions are located in Manteo, the island’s largest town. Manteo, named for a Roanoke Indian, is now home to a replica of a historic lighthouse that once guided commercial and pleasure vessels through the southern entrance to Croatan Sound off the south end of the island.
There was a short-lived attempt at an onshore lighthouse in the area in the 1830s, but it was abandoned by the end of the decade. The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse built in 1858, was one of at least a dozen screw pile lights erected in North Carolina waters. None of the original structures survived.
The 1858 lighthouse consisted of a hexagonal, cottage-type wooden dwelling atop seven iron piles that were literally screwed into the bottom of the Sound. A short tower and an iron lantern with a fourth order Fresnel lens showing a fixed white light surmounted the structure. This lighthouse was subject to frequent flooding and had to be replaced in 1877. A new square, cottage-style screw pile structure was constructed about 100 yards south-southeast of its predecessor.
The 1877 lighthouse survived until 1955, when the Coast Guard decommissioned it. A local man, who bought two other screw pile lighthouses at the same time, soon purchased it. The owner attempted to move all three structures to shore by barge, but only one of the three survived the journey. The lone survivor, the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse, still stands near a canal in Edenton. The 1877 Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse was lost forever in the waters of Croatan Sound.
A Lasting Legacy
In the mid-1990s, current Mayor John Wilson of Manteo suggested the idea of a lighthouse replica to then Mayor Lee Tugwell. The town was to celebrate its centennial in 1999, and the lighthouse was envisioned as a component of the celebration. The idea quickly gained supporters, but there was a long struggle to raise funds and to gain the needed permits to build the replica. Among other things, the Army Corps of Engineers had to be convinced that the new lighthouse would pose no danger to navigation. A $105,000 grant came from the Dare County Tourism Board, and the Town of Manteo kicked in $22,000. Dr. Walter Bloom and his wife, Sue, made an important contribution of $20,000. More funds came from a variety of individuals, businesses, and organizations, including $10,000 from the Outer Banks Conservationists. The town’s lighthouse committee included Commissioner David Farrow, who was stationed at the old lighthouse as a young Coast Guardsman in the 1950s. It was decided that the reproduction of the 1877 lighthouse would replace an aging water treatment plant on the town’s waterfront at the south end of Queen Elizabeth Avenue, and construction finally began in 2003. Hurricane Isabel slowed progress for a while that fall, but the structure was completed in time for a gala dedication on September 25, 2004. The nearby Creef/Davis Boathouse, damaged by Hurricane Isabel and subsequently repaired, was rededicated at the same time.
Hundreds gathered for the September celebration, which was opened by Mayor Wilson. There were boat rides, a firing of a gun on the Elizabeth II, a ceremonial water spray by the Manteo Fire Department, a free community cookout and more. Melody Leckie of the Outer Banks Conservationists prepared a commemorative booklet for the occasion.
Among other ex-keepers in attendance was 100-year-old Wayland Baum, who was born in Wanchese on Roanoke Island. His father, Thomas Hardy Baum, was a keeper at Cape Hatteras, Long Shoal, Tangier Island, and Croatan River Light. Wayland Baum made his living mostly as a fisherman, but he served in the Lighthouse Service aboard a tender and also as substitute keeper at several lighthouses. He is quite possibly the oldest living former employee of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. In recognizing Baum at the dedication, Mayor Wilson commented, “Lighthouses are much more about people than they are about the structures themselves.”
Also at the dedication was Dr. Walter Bloom, whose wife had died before the replica was completed. Town Commissioner Dell Collins and Town Manager Kermit Skinner presented Dr. Bloom with a framed print of the lighthouse. Dr. Bloom responded, “All I can say is I love Manteo. It’s been one of the great places in my life.”
The new structure is an almost-exact replica of the 1877 lighthouse, except for an enlarged deck that surrounds it. It’s been made complete with the loan of a fourth order Fresnel lens from the Coast Guard, secured with the help of the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. The lens is illuminated with a 25-watt light bulb inside.
The North Carolina Maritime Museum on Roanoke Island now operates the lighthouse as part of its facilities. Visitors to the lighthouse replica can learn about the vital role the lighthouse played in the area’s past, and they can also experience a view that encompasses Shallowbag Bay, the Elizabeth II, the Roanoke Island Festival Park, and much more. There are even plans to establish a water taxi to the location from the beaches of the Outer Banks. Things are looking very bright on the Manteo waterfront.
This story appeared in the
December 2004 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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