The Oak Island Lighthouse and Coast Guard station have a long history together, and the tall lighthouse tower stands as a welcoming beacon to visitors who head to these picturesque shores. As the newest lighthouse in North Carolina, the distinctive white, gray and black structure is unlike any other on the coastline, prompting both curiosity and amazement from visitors, and making it a "must-see" on any lighthouse lover's road trip list.
The lighthouse was built in 1958 in an effort to assist the neighboring Bald Head Island lighthouse in guarding the mouth of the Cape Fear River for mariners passing through, as well as the Atlantic Ocean coastline. Because both Bald Head Island and Oak Island are dangerously close to the Frying Pan Shoals, as well as the channel that runs up the river from the ocean to the port town of Wilmington, it was determined that two structures were needed to guard this large region of waterfront. The Bald Head Island lighthouse guarded the western portion, specifically the Cape Fear Riverbanks, while the Oak Island lighthouse would be a beacon for ocean traffic that was travelling offshore.
The lighthouse was built on the expansive site of the local Oak Island Coast Guard station ,which has been active since 1932, and which was an original Lifesaving Station before that.
Because the Oak Island Lighthouse is the newest structure in the state, and therefore has the benefit of more modern technology, it is also one of the coast's hardiest, strongest and most effective lighthouses.Before the tower itself was even built, 24 concrete pilings were driven into the ground nearly 70' feet deep to protect the structure from storm surges or floods, and the long tapered structure is also a marvel itself, with solid, 8-inch-thick concrete walls throughout.
The distinctive pattern of the three solid black, gray and white stripes was also due to its initial construction, as each colored component of the tower is created with a different material. The first 40' feet of the tower is comprised of natural gray cement, while the next 50' feet is made up of white Portland cement and white quartz aggregate, and the final top portion is composed of cement and black paint. As a result, the tower will never have to be repainted, and has a unique color-blocking exterior that sets it apart from its coastal neighbors. The completed tower itself is 148' feet tall, with an 11' foot tall lantern room which holds 8 aero beacon lighting fixtures, with 4 on top and 4 on the bottom.
When the lighthouse was first lit with the original carbon-arc mercury lamps in 36" reflectors, it was one of the brightest lights in the world. By the end of the century, however, the modern navigational systems that were standard with passing ships made the lighthouse obsolete, and the Oak Island Lighthouse was briefly turned off and abandoned, and designated as a government "surplus property" in 2003. In 2004, the town of Caswell Beach was granted ownership of the lighthouse and bordering oceanfront property by the Federal Government, and today the lighthouse remains open to the public so that visitors from all over the country have an opportunity to explore this unique structure.
Tours are available to the second level of the structure during the summer months, specifically Memorial Day through Labor Day, on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. Adventurous climbers also have the option to climb to the top year-round, however, reservations for this hike must be made in advance at least two weeks before a proposed visit.
Once of the first things that lighthouse fans will notice during their climb are the unique stairs, which aren't spiral in nature like the other North Carolina lighthouses, but are more similar to "ship's stairs" with straight staircases going in opposite directions. The seasonal standard tour takes visitors up 12 steps to a landing, while the full climb will allow hikers to climb up all 131 steps to the top to enjoy unparalleled views of the island surroundings.
Visitors any time of year can always catch a few fantastic photos of the lighthouse via a boardwalk and an observation deck just across the street that provides an excellent view of the structure. The grounds are open from sunrise until sunset, and parking is limited to 30 minutes per visitors, but this allotment is plenty of time to snap a few photos and look up in awe at the towering lighthouse overhead.
Potential lighthouse climbers can request a tour by contacting the Oak Island Lighthouse directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by filling out an online form, located on their website.
The Coast Guard Station, which borders the lighthouse, has a unique history all its own. An established site for decades, the former Coast Guard Station burned to the ground in 2002, and was quickly replaced with an almost exact replica of the former station. An instrumental lifesaver for maritime traffic that runs into trouble along the Cape Fear River or offshore of the Southern North Carolina coastline, the station has a long history of keeping the waters of Oak Island safe for all visitors.
Both the Oak Island Lighthouse and the Coast Guard Station are relatively new, but cherished local landmarks in this small island community. The lighthouse, with a distinctive look and an equally original light that flashes briefly four times every 10 seconds, is considered a signature of the community, and many local tees, souvenirs, and other trinkets pay homage to this distinguished structure. Open to visitors for photos year round, and a fantastic icon for lighthouse and coastal lovers alike, the Oak Island Lighthouse and adjacent Coast Guard Station easily combine to create one of the most favorite local landscapes off the beach.