Oak Island Light

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Oak Island Light
Oak Island Lighthouse Walkway.jpg
Oak Island Lighthouse
Oak Island Light is located in North Carolina
Oak Island Light
Oak Island Light
Location Oak Island, Cape Fear River, North Carolina
Coordinates 33°53′34″N 78°02′06″W / 33.8929°N 78.035°W / 33.8929; -78.035Coordinates: 33°53′34″N 78°02′06″W / 33.8929°N 78.035°W / 33.8929; -78.035
Year first constructed 1957/8
Year first lit 1958
Automated yes
Foundation Concrete-filled steel pilings
Construction Portland concrete
Tower shape Cylindrical
Markings / pattern Bottom third of tower gray, second third white, top third black
Height 148 feet (45 m)
Focal height 169 feet (52 m)
Current lens DCB-436 Aerobeacon
Intensity 2,500,000 candlepower
Range 24 nautical miles
Characteristic Fl (4)W 10s
Admiralty number J2470
ARLHS number USA-558
USCG number


Oak Island Lighthouse
Area 5.7 acres (2.3 ha)
NRHP Reference # 07000293[3]
Added to NRHP April 5, 2007

The Oak Island Light, one of the newest lighthouses in the US, is located in the town of Caswell Beach, NC. It features four 2.5 million candlepower aerobeacon lenses which produce four, one-second bursts of light every ten seconds. Owned by the town since 2004, it sits next to a United States Coast Guard (USCG) Station on the east end of Oak Island in Brunswick County, NC.


1958-Marine Corps helicopters lifting lantern atop the lighthouse
2016–Aerial photo of the Oak Island Light/Coast Guard Station
Oak Island Lighthouse

The Oak Island Lighthouse is located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River to help ships navigate Frying Pan Shoals and can be seen over 16 miles away.[4] [5]Constructed in 1957-58 by Brinkley, W.F. & Son Construction Co. located in Granite Quarry NC, at a cost of $110,000, it replaced the Cape Fear Light, a steel skeleton structure on Bald Head Island, which was demolished in 1958. This light, which began operation in 1903, was in turn a functional replacement for the still standing and now popular tourist attraction, the 1817 Bald Head Light (Old Baldy).[6]

The Oak Island Light was lit for the first time in May 1958 and during the period 1958–1962, it was the brightest in the US (the Charleston Light in South Carolina now holds that distinction). In February 2002, it became a news item when the adjoining USCG Station caught fire, and while the station burned to the ground, the lighthouse suffered no damage. Rebuilt over the existing foundation, the current Coast Guard station closely resembles the old one[7] The following year, the lighthouse was designated as surplus and in 2004 the Town of Caswell Beach gained ownership from the Federal Government of it, the surrounding grounds and adjacent oceanfront property. The transfer agreement requires the town to maintain the property for recreation purposes with the Coast Guard continuing to be responsible for operating the beacon.[8] In April 2007, the Oak Island Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places.[9]

A major exterior rehabilitation of the structure was completed in 2016 by the International Chimney Corporation (the same company that moved the Cape Hatteras Light). Costing slightly less than $100,000, it was notable for the fact that it was funded entirely by contributions and a loan to be paid back by future donations.[10]


Designed to be able to sway about 3″ in a 100 mph wind, the lighthouse rests on 24 pilings driven 67’ deep into bedrock. The pilings are 10” round, filled with concrete and capped by a 30’ wide by 3’ deep octagonal concrete base. Of the visible structure, 142’ of it is poured concrete, the top 52’ of it is black, the middle 50’ white, and the bottom 40’ feet cement grey. The black and white colors are not painted on the structure, having instead been mixed into the concrete at the time the tower was constructed. On top of all of this sits a 11’ tall aluminum and glass light enclosure [11]

The inside of the tower has a uniform diameter of a little more than 16’ 4”, with the exterior concrete walls 8” thick. While the overall structure is 148’ tall, it was sited on a small knoll, which has nautical charts showing the light as being 169’ above sea level.[1]

Current status[edit]

The Oak Island Lighthouse grounds are open to the public year round for viewing and picture taking, with 30 minute parking provided at the base of the tower from sunrise until sunset. A walkway to the beach provides a good vantage point for photos of the structure, and descriptive placards along the way describe the site history and resident wildlife/vegetation. The structure itself and the walkway are cared for and managed by a citizens group, Friends of the Oak Island Lighthouse (FOIL).

Lighthouse Tours[edit]

The interior of the lighthouse is open for visits by the general public, aged seven or above, with tours to the second level (up twelve steps) from Memorial Day–Labor Day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tours to the top of the lighthouse, which has an outside balcony, are offered year round (except for a few major holidays) for those aged nine or older. It requires climbing 131 steps, which unlike the classic circular pattern, have straight but very steep sections with eight landings along the way, a style referred to as a ‘ships ladder.’ A minimum of two weeks advance notice is normally required for such a tour reservation, which can be obtained on-line by visiting the Oak Island Lighthouse web site maintained by FOIL.[12]

View from the Oak Island Lighthouse balcony looking towards the east end of Oak Island and the mouth of the Cape Fear River

Further reading[edit]

  • Hairr, John, North Carolina Lighthouses and Lifesaving Stations (NC) (Images of America), 2004, ISBN 978-0738515205
  • Zepke, Terrance Lighthouses of the Carolinas: A Short History and Guide’' 2011, ISBN 978-1561645039


External links[edit]