In the Outer Banks of North Carolina, twenty years ago from June 17th, 1999 to July 9, 1999, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet farther inland from Hatteras Point. So you may be asking yourself, what would motivate anyone to move a historic lighthouse? Why? How? In fact, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has changed over time with different styles of architecture leading up to its present design and location.
The History And Older Versions Of The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
The first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built in 1803. The lighthouse was built of sandstone and was 90 feet tall. According to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the 1803 lighthouse was too short and was not able to effectively warn ships if they were in danger or if they needed to know which way the shore was. Also, because the lighthouse was made of sandstone, it blended in with the color of the sand, so it was harder to see than you would expect. In 1853, the Lighthouse Board decided to add 60 feet to the height of the 1803 lighthouse making it 150 feet tall. It was then painted red and white making it easier to see during the day. However, people still complained about the effectiveness of the lighthouse.
The construction of the 1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse started in October of 1868 next to the 1803 lighthouse. The 1870 lighthouse was completed in December of 1870 costing $155,000 which would cost millions in today’s dollars. The 1803 lighthouse was destroyed in February of 1871.
The Moving of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
In 1999, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore decided to move the lighthouse because of the constant erosion of the shore. As you can imagine, moving a lighthouse is not very easy! As described by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the whole original foundation was temporarily replaced by shoring parts and supports. After cross beams and main beams were set, the temporary supporting parts were then removed. Hydraulic jacks were built into the main beams and were used to make a 6-foot raise so that they could use roll beams and rollers to roll the lighthouse into position. The hydraulic jacks were retracted and they were then able to roll the lighthouse into its new location. It cost $11.8 million to move the lighthouse!
Today, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is still used frequently to guide ships in the coast of North Carolina. It is no longer in danger of the eroding shoreline and has withstood many severe storms in the past 20 years. But with the shoreline continuing to erode, how long before they will have to move the lighthouse again?
Story by Tate Lloyd