Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Virtual Tour

Black and white striped lighthouse
Lighthouse tower at Cape Hatteras station (HABS NC-357)


Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is located near Buxton, North Carolina. It was completed in 1870. The lighthouse has an approximately 21-foot tall octagonal base, built of brick with stone quoins. It rests on a four-step stone plinth and capped with a stone cornice. A 130-foot tall tapered, circular brick shaft rises from the base, capped by a lantern with a balcony supported by elaborate cast iron brackets. The lighthouse's 180-foot high focal plane is the tallest in the United States. Following the completion of the new lighthouse, the old lighthouse was demolished. Leftover bricks were used to construct the Principal Keeper's Quarters, which was occupied in 1871. The lighthouse's distinctive black spiral daymark was first painted in 1873.

An oil house was built adjacent to the lighthouse in 1892. The lighthouse's electrification in 1934 made it obsolete. By that time, coastal erosion had become a concern, with 900 feet of steel groins installed in 1930 to protect the lighthouse. In 1936, with the erection of a 150-foot skeleton tower 1 1/2 miles away, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was abandoned by the U.S. Lighthouse Board and the light extinguished. Jurisdiction for the lighthouse and its associated structures was transferred to the National Park Service later that year, and Cape Hatteras National Seashore was established in 1937. Beginning in January 1942, the lighthouse was used as a watchtower by the U.S. Coast Guard. Left unsecured by the Coast Guard following World War II, the lighthouse's Fresnel lens was substantially vandalized. Because of that, it was removed in 1949.

A new lamp was installed in the lighthouse in 1951. That lamp was replaced by the current rotary beacon in 1972. Meanwhile, seacoast erosion continued despite remediation efforts, threatening the existence of the lighthouse. Finally, in 1988, following decades of studies and proposals, a National Academy of Sciences report recommended relocation of the lighthouse as the most cost effective method of protection. In 1999, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and its associated structures were moved approximately half a mile to their current locations, with the lantern relit on 13 November that year.

Project Information

Heritage Documentation Programs (HDP) undertook Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) documentation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 2016 at the request of the Historic Preservation Training Center. The field work was undertaken and the measured drawings were produced by Project Supervisor Mark Schara, AIA, HABS Architect; by HDP Architects Paul Davidson, Daniel De Sousa, and Ryan Pierce; and by Student Architects Hector Berdecia (University of Puerto Rico), L. Naomi Doddington (Clemson University), and Ruben Melendez (Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico). The large format photography was undertaken by HDP Photographers Todd Croteau and Jarob J. Ortiz.

The virtual tour was produced in 2021 at the request of Cape Hatteras National Seashore by Project Supervisor and HABS Architect Paul Davidson and HALS Architect Ryan Pierce.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Last updated: November 6, 2023