Construction and Maintenance

Q. How tall is the lighthouse?
At the current lighthouse site:

193.20 feet from the ground to the peak of the lighthouse

198.49 feet from the ground to the top of the lightning rod

192.2 feet is the focal height (mean sea level to light)

208.0 feet above mean sea level at the OLD lighthouse site.

210.01 feet above mean sea level at the NEW lighthouse site.

The lower gallery is 165 ft ½ inch above sidewalk level (at the inner edge-it slopes for drainage) - roughly the same as a 12 story building.

It is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. Also, according to the National Maritime Preservation Initiative and F. Ross Holland, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse "…still may be the tallest brick lighthouse in the World."

Q. What are the Lighthouse’s Dimensions?

Base Structure:

Bottom of base: 37'5" diameter Octagon shape

Height: 21' 9.5"

Top of base: 32' 6" diameter Octagon shape


Height: 10' 5.5"

Width (doorway): 2 doors, each 4'-4" wide

Frame: 1' 4" wide

Entrance Stairs:

All steps 8" high

First 7 steps 11" deep

8th step 2' 9" deep

9th step 3' deep


Height: 147' 4.25"

Bottom Diameter: 32' 5.5"

2 Black stripes rotating 1.5 turns


Height: 6' 5"

Width: 2' 4.5"

There are three windows on the entrance side and 4 windows on the opposite. The windows are staggered apart. The space between each window (on the same side) is 40' 1/2".

Q. How many bricks were used?
1,250,000 were ordered from a Baltimore firm - the exact number used is unknown, but this figure tallies closely with the engineering estimates. The brick was manufactured at a kiln on the James River in Virginia, for a Baltimore contractor. The bricks are not curved. Some extras went into the facade and walls of the 1871 Principal Keeper's Quarters (however, there are two kinds of brick in inside quarter’s walls. It is unknown if both are original).

Q. How much does the structure weigh?
The lighthouse weighs approximately 4830 tons, not including the foundation.

Q. What other materials were used?

Black slate and white marble quarry tile were used on most floors (quarries unknown). The stairs and most other metal items are cast, rolled or drawn iron. Bronze was used for more demanding situations, such as the lantern frame work. The roof is copper, lined with tin inside; the lightening rod is bronze with a platinum-clad tip. The storm doors at the top and bottom of the tower are plate iron and bronze respectively; the bottom doors were originally specified to be iron. The inner doors, removed long ago, were originally wood with glass lights. Cast iron lintels and corbels once graced landing windows, but deteriorated and were removed. The windows themselves are modern replacements for the original iron framed casements.

Q. Who did the actual construction work?
The Lighthouse Board provided a Superintendent of Construction, Dexter Stetson, who hired and trained nearly 100 laborers locally - the laborers received $1.50 a day. A number of the crew went on to assist on the Bodie Island Lighthouse project. Stetson also worked on the Cape Lookout Light.

Q. How deep is the foundation?
The original foundation was about 7 ½ feet deep and was made of 6" by 12" by 12' crossed yellow pine timbers submerged in water, topped with granite boulders cemented together. The foundation below the present lighthouse is a 60x60x4’ steel reinforced concrete pad plus five feet of 147,000 high-density bricks and 1 ½ to 2 feet of rock.

Q. How thick and solid are the walls?
The granite and brick base is virtually solid, but the tapered tube above is double walled, with 12 hidden full-length vertical ribs joining the two tubes. The vertical ribs provide stiffness to the inner and outer walls. They act like the flying buttresses in Gothic cathedrals. The double walled design helped keep the tower rigid and the center of gravity low - about a third of the way up. At its base, the tapered outer tube is 46 3/4 inches thick and the inner tube - a true cylinder - is 20 inches thick. 134 feet 4 inches above the ground (even with the top of the sixth landing window), the two walls merge, and, at the bottom of the gallery brackets, the total thickness is 2 inches to 10 inches. The brick inside the lantern housing (watch room and service room) was laid after the lantern was assembled and is less than two feet thick. At its bottom, the outer tube is 32 feet 5 1/2 inches in diameter and, at the bottom of the gallery brackets, it is 17 feet 2 inches. The inside diameter of the stairwell is 11 feet 6 inches from top to bottom - there is no taper inside. The lower gallery deck, by the way, is 29 feet 10 inches in diameter.

Q. Why is the tower leaning?
It is not leaning significantly, though there seems to be such a rumor floating around. There is a deceptive optical illusion at certain angles of view, caused by the stripes, and sometimes enhanced by a backdrop of moving clouds. Hasbrouck & Hunderman found the appearance of a possible slight lean to the north or west, but could not rule out simple irregularities in construction.

Q. How much paint does it take to paint the lighthouse?
140-150 gallons of paint

Q. Who pays for repair work done to the lighthouse?
The National Park Service.

Q. What has been removed, repaired, or replaced in the structure?
Much of the exposed ironwork of the lower gallery, some of the stairs and all their anchor bolts, and the windows are replacements. Lantern room glass has been replaced many times. The roof was rebuilt in 1992. The cast iron casement window trim, and the weight set and its hardware are gone. A cabinet, a small desk, and a coal stove were once present in the watch room. A set of roller curtains (visible in old photos) that once kept the sun's rays out of the lens during the day are also gone. Inner wood doors with glass lights were removed from the top and bottom entries, along with glass transoms at the bottom; they were removed during the restoration and are said to be in storage by the USCG. Parts of the gear box and lens disappeared during WWII, along with the keepers’ tools. The vandalized Fresnel lens was removed in 1949 and stored. In October 2006, the lens’ pedestal and clockwork assembly were removed. After 57 years, the lens and pedestal assembly were reunited and can now be viewed at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, in Hatteras Village, just 10 miles to the southwest of the lighthouse.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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Cape Hatteras National Seashore
1401 National Park Drive

Manteo , NC 27954


252 473-2111

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