Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Fact Sheet:
  • Completed - (activated) Dec. 16, 1870
  • Height to top - 198 feet, 2½ inches (tallest masonry lighthouse in the U.S. and the second tallest brick light tower in the world.
    Figures at the new location, as given by the National Park Service, are as follows:
    • Tip of the spire - 210.01 feet above Mean Sea Level
    • Tip of the spire - approx. 197.5 ft. above ground
  • Height to focal plane - 192.2 ft. (new location)
  • Beacon Type - 2 DCB-24 rotating beacons back to back with 1000 watt lights focused by parabolic reflectors
  • Beacon distance - 24 nautical miles (about 20 statute miles)
  • Light pattern - rotating beacon, 7½ seconds between lamps (15 sec. per complete rotation for 8 flashes per minute). - dusk to dawn
  • No. of lighthouse steps - (depends on which steps you count) - 9 granite steps from the sidewalk to the inside, 248 cast iron steps to reach the gallery, and 12 more to the lantern room. Thus, visitors climb 257, Keeper climbs 269.
  • Open to public to climb - Yes (approx. Good Friday/Easter through Columbus Day or week of Columbus Day)
  • Location - near Buxton:
    Plaque in lighthouse gives 35° 15' 14" N Latitude and 75° 30' 56" W Longitude, though the National Park Service gives the original (pre-move in 1999) coordinates as 35° 15' 18.6" N latitude, 75° 31' 10.5'W longitude, and gives the new coordinates after move as 35° 15' 01.92560" N latitude, 75° 31' 43.74342'W longitude
  • Keeper's Houses - Duplex Asst. Keepers Quarters open to public as visitor center/museum. Brick Keepers Quarters not open to public.
  • Management - Beacon operation maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. Lighthouse, grounds and visitor center operated by National Park Service.
  • How to get there - From NC 12 on east side of Buxton, turn south at lighthouse grounds entrance marked by signage.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1973.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 2003.

In 1999 the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, weighing about 3000 tons, was physically uprooted and moved more than half a mile (on the next page you will learn more about why the lighthouse was moved). It still commands the same awe it has always deserved, but the atmosphere surrounding it is quite different. It is a major attraction, and it's being treated like one. Park personnel see that everyone stays in line and follows the rules, like waiting in line at a theme park to ride the "Super Duper Thriller".

Thirty years ago things were far more casual. There were no park personnel to supervise visitors. It was each curious visitor for himself. The 1973 photo at right shows a large crowd around the gallery. The photo at left, also taken in 1973, shows the old location, just 600 feet away from the foundation remains of the 1803 lighthouse that preceded the current structure. SInce this old foundation disappeared in a storm in 1980, and the lighthouse was moved in 1999, the same photo taken today would show nothing but sand and sky.

NOAA photo (above)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) took aerial photos of the entire Outer Banks, including all the lighthouses, in September, 2003, just after Hurricane Isabel. You will notice in these photos several areas of standing water left after the hurricane. Though these photos have been reduced somewhat in size, they are still quite large. In all four images, east is to the left.

Photos Aerial One, and Aerial Two are detailed views of the new lighthouse site. Aerial Three includes the old lighthouse location next to the beach so the relationship can be seen. And as a special treat, Aerial Four is the same photo with the lighthouse and Keepers Quarters buildings digitally placed back where they originally were (just for old times sake).

The panoramic photo above. taken about a month after the aerial photos, is looking east from the lighthouse, and shows the path taken by the lighthouse when it was moved. The patch of sand next to the ocean (top center in the photo) is the old location of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Left is another photo looking east with Cape Hatteras Lighthouse casting its shadowy finger toward its old home. Below right is a telephoto view from the lighthouse gallery, showing the old lighthouse location next to the beach. The whitish oval ring, left of center, is where the lighthouse stood. The protective dunes were almost completely washed away by Isabel, and the beach was seriously eroded farther along the old groin.
The panoramic photo at right shows the view north from the lighthouse at its new location. Looking south from the gallery (photo below) affords a great view of Cape Point. Here too, the dunes were washed completely away by the fury of Hurricane Isabel. In fact, there are no dunes left at all between the lighthouse and Cape Point. Two views looking north from Cape Point (below center & right) also show a communications tower south of the lighthouse.

The new site is arranged identically to the original location (top left photo). The duplex Assistant Keeper's Quarters serves as a visitor center and museum. The brick main Keeper's Quarters is not open to the public. The lower left photo shows the lighthouse view from the west end of the duplex Keeper's Quarters.

The entrance to the lighthouse base gives the illusion that the lighthouse is not really so tall after all. But once you see the entrance compared to a person, the true grand scale of the door, the base, and the lighthouse itself is suddenly quite evident (upper right).

click thumbnails for
a larger view

An autumn sunset gives a pink glow to the white stripes (right) and brightens the sky (lower right) as the lighthouse "beacon" begins its nightly watch. The beacon makes a spot on the lantern glass (left photo) in this detail of the beacon at night. At the far left is a telephoto view looking north to the lighthouse from the road to Cape Point.

The best view in town is, of course, from the gallery atop Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. And on an especially clear day, with the light from the west, if you look southeast very carefully out over the ocean, you might see a faint glimmer on the horizon. And if you remembered your binoculars, you may be able to tell that the teeny tiny shimmering you can almost see is the Diamond Shoals Light Tower, 13 miles away! It and the Frying Pan Shoals tower both are in deplorable condition and scheduled for demolition by 2004, but funding is still pending.

There's more to see at Cape Hatteras. Go inside the Keeper's Quarters, and inside the lighthouse itself on page two.
Continue to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - Page Two > Cape

Navigate to individual lighthouse pages with these buttons.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
- Page Two

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
- Page Three

Related Links -

Why was Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Moved?

Beautiful Photos of
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the Lighthouse Gallery

Beautiful Photos of
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the Lighthouse Gallery

Copyright © 2003 Fred Hurteau           * Copyright information and image use policy *

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