Roanoke River Light

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Roanoke River Light
Roanoke River Light.jpg
Roanoke River Light (NPS)
Roanoke River Light is located in North Carolina
Roanoke River Light
Location in Albemarle Sound at the mouth of the Roanoke River; moved to Edenton, North Carolina
Coordinates 36°03′23″N 76°36′39″W / 36.0565°N 76.6109°W / 36.0565; -76.6109Coordinates: 36°03′23″N 76°36′39″W / 36.0565°N 76.6109°W / 36.0565; -76.6109
Year first lit 1867 (first light)[2]
1903 (second light)[3][4]
Deactivated 1941[3][4]
Foundation screw-pile
Construction cast-iron/wood
Tower shape square house w/central lantern (first)[1]
square house w/tower at corner (second)[3][4]
Original lens fourth-order Fresnel lens

The Roanoke River Light is a historic lighthouse which once stood in Albemarle Sound at the mouth of the Roanoke River in North Carolina. The only surviving screw-pile lighthouse in the state,[5] it has since been moved twice, and a replica of a predecessor light has been erected at a fourth location.


A lightship was placed at this location in 1835, designated "MM" in the 1939 USCG list of early lightships.[6] This vessel sported an arrangement of red, blue, and green lenses, and survived until the Civil War, when it was captured by confederate forces and was eventually taken up the Roanoke River and scuttled.[1]

The first permanent structure was erected in 1866, a square screw-pile lighthouse similar to others in the region.[1] This light burned in March 1885 and was reconstructed the same year; however, in the following winter moving ice broke two of the pilings and threw the house into the sound.[5]

A new light was constructed at the same site in 1887, another screw-pile structure of an atypical design. The new light had two stories rather than the usual single story, and the lantern housing the lamp sat on a tower arising from a corner of the building, rather than being mounted at the center of the roof. The light was equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel lens.[1]

Traffic through the area decreased in the twentieth century, and in 1941 the light was decommissioned, but left in place. It remained unoccupied into the mid 1950s, when in 1955 it was purchased from the coast guard by Elijah Tate, a local waterman, for $10.[1] Tate had also purchased two other screw-pile lighthouse in the region, but both were destroyed in attempts to move them from their pilings.[1] He sold the Roanoke River light to Emmett Wiggins, a tugboat operator who also ran a marine salvage business. Wiggins's solution to moving the light was to take a surplus Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) out to the light and place it beneath the structure, having partially flooded his improvised barge and removed all pilings but those at the four corners.[1]

Replica of the Roanoke River Lighthouse, built at Plymouth, North Carolina

The ballasting water pumped out, the LCI rose up under the house and supported it as the remaining connections to the foundation were severed.[1] The lighthouse was moved to a shore location at the mouth of Filbert's Creek just west of Edenton, North Carolina, where it would remain for over fifty years; it served as Wiggins's residence from 1960 until his death in 1995.[1]

Officials of the maritime museum in Plymouth had approached Wiggins about purchasing the light, but a sale was not completed before his death, and the million dollar price asked by his heirs was rejected.[1] Instead, they decided to build a replica of the earlier light, using archived plans.[7] Construction on the replica began in 2001 and was completed in 2003, with the replica structure standing across the street from the maritime museum.[8]

In 2007 the Edenton Historical society succeeded in purchasing the original lighthouse for $225,000, and on May 23, 2007, it was moved by barge to the town waterfront. Further work to construct a proper iron foundation and complete the move is expected in 2010.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Roanoke River, NC". Retrieved 2009-09-14. 
  2. ^ "The 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse". Edenton Historical Commission. Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  3. ^ a b c "Historic Light Station Information and Photography: North Carolina". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office. Retrieved 2009-09-14. 
  4. ^ a b c "Roanoke River Light". National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-09-14. 
  5. ^ a b D'Entremont, Jeremy (February 2001). "Roanoke River Lighthouse Replica to be Built". Lighthouse Digest. Retrieved 2009-10-02. 
  6. ^ "Early U.S. Lightships". United States Coast Guard. Retrieved 2009-09-17. 
  7. ^ "Roanoke River (Replica), NC". Retrieved 2009-10-10. 
  8. ^ "The Roanoke River Lighthouse". Roanoke River Lighthouse and Maritime Museum. Retrieved 2009-10-10.