The History of Corolla’s Lighthouse

The story of our tower begins in 1873. Congress appropriates funding for a Lighthouse into the far reaches of coastal northeastern North Carolina; the beacon was to be an illuminator of a dark stretch of coast, between Cape Henry, Virginia and Bodie Island Light in North Carolina.

And just as significantly, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse was the last large lighthouse tower constructed on the Outer Banks. By its completion in December 1875, the lighthouse in Corolla Village was alive and shining – its beams stretching 15 miles, its maintenance stewarded by loyal keepers. 

Lighthouse Keepers in Corolla, North Carolina

Over two dozen families stayed in the Currituck Beach Lighthouse duplex Keepers’ Dwelling since its completion, fighting the elements of an isolated barrier island system, protecting the Lighthouse compound, and ensuring the light was always on, always rotating. The history is rich, dynamic, and still alive today.

Beach Lighthouse and its Keepers in 1893
Herbert C. Bamber photograph of the Lighthouse and its keepers in 1893
Keeper's House in Disrepair
The Keepers’ House in disrepair, 1956
Trenching at the Lighthouse
Sitework in progress
Jack, Estelle and John on Steps
Assessing repairs on the Keepers’ House
Keeper's House Exterior
Restoration of the Keepers House in progress
Bill Parker, John Wilson and Alex Khalm
Board members checking in on Lighthouse restoration
Cleaning Lighthouse Walkway
Cleaning the Lighthouse walkway in the 1980s
Aerial Photo of Lighthouse in Early 1990s
An aerial shot of the Lighthouse, early 1990s
Beach Lighthouse Restoration in 1999
Lighthouse scaffolding up during the 1999 restoration by OBC
Working on the Currituck Beach Lighthouse Lens
Working on the lens rotation, ensuring the wheels below the lens were still round after decades of not moving.
Lighthouse tower restoration in the late 1990s
Restored Keeper's House
The Keepers’ House, totally restored

Want to learn everything about the Keepers who were stationed at the Currituck Beach Lighthouse since the beginning? We have a book about it – free to you, and full of incredible stories.

Free Download of “To Illuminate the Dark Space”

Currituck Beach Lighthouse Timeline

1874 – Currituck Beach Lighthouse construction begins
1874 – Currituck Beach Lighthouse construction begins

At Morris Island, S.C.  "Major Hains noted [in reference to the Morris Island Lighthouse, a sister lighthouse of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in size and construction techniques] ...'more careful estimate places the weight [of the tower] at 3,200 tons.' He increased the size of the base to 22 feet, driving…
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December 1, 1875 – Currituck Beach Lighthouse is first illuminated.
December 1, 1875 – Currituck Beach Lighthouse is first illuminated.

It is a "fixed white light, varied by red flash every 90 seconds."

May 8, 1876 – The Lighthouse Keepers’ dwelling is completed
May 8, 1876 – The Lighthouse Keepers’ dwelling is completed

The "graphic representation" is shown in the Currituck Beach Lighthouse at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

January, 1878 – The wreck of the Metropolis occurs near the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.
January, 1878 – The wreck of the Metropolis occurs near the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

Lighthouse Keeper Nathaniel Burris cared for the shipwrecked, by his firsthand account: "I furnished food and shelter for sixty-one persons that night, and for about seventy-six for breakfast and dinner; also sheltered them that night and gave them a breakfast the following morning (Saturday). They left at noon for the…
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February, 1881 – Keeper’s dwelling is built at Long Point Light Station in the Currituck Sound
February, 1881 – Keeper’s dwelling is built at Long Point Light Station in the Currituck Sound

Now named the "Little Keeper's House", this building was moved to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse compound in 1920. The system of lighting beacons by compressed gas is first introduced.

April, 1884 – For the first time, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is lit with mineral oil instead of lard oil
April, 1884 – For the first time, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is lit with mineral oil instead of lard oil

The new lamp – a Heat Moderator Lamp has 5 wicks instead of 4 with the Funck's Hydraulic Float Lamp.

May 6, 1895 – A U.S. Post Office is established on Currituck Beach
May 6, 1895 – A U.S. Post Office is established on Currituck Beach

The place as we know it today, Corolla, is officially named.

September 16, 1895 – The Currituck Beach Lighthouse keeper requests to build a schoolhouse
September 16, 1895 – The Currituck Beach Lighthouse keeper requests to build a schoolhouse

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse Keeper's request to build a schoolhouse in Corolla is recommended for approval.

January, 1920
January, 1920

The Assistant Keeper's Dwelling (now named the "Little Keeper's House" in the Currituck Beach Lighthouse Compound) is barged from Long Point to Currituck Beach.

May, 1923
May, 1923

Keeper William Riley Austin describes his duties as a Keeper, by stating the number of hours working the position per day. The average was 15 hours per day, and 105 hours per week.

August, 1927 – The first Assistant Keeper George Johnson’s daughter, Sadie, drowns at Virginia Beach
August, 1927 – The first Assistant Keeper George Johnson’s daughter, Sadie, drowns at Virginia Beach

Historical records state: "The Coast Guard worked for two hours in an endeavor to resuscitate her, without success. The body was taken to Corolla for interment."

September, 1928 – First Assistant Keeper Johnson describes his job, giving a glimpse into life in of the times
September, 1928 – First Assistant Keeper Johnson describes his job, giving a glimpse into life in of the times

"Enters on duty at 12:00 midnight, inspects working condition of light and machinery, relieves man on duty and takes over responsibility of watch until sunrise. Machinery that runs lens to be wound every three hours, at sunrise extinguishes light, put on lens cover, draw off remaining oil in oil tank,…
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July 4, 1933 – The lighthouse is electrified
July 4, 1933 – The lighthouse is electrified

The Keepers assist workmen to install generators and the clockwork and bullseye are removed from the lantern.

September, 1937 – Currituck Beach Lighthouse is “made automatic, and personnel is discontinued.”
September, 1937 – Currituck Beach Lighthouse is “made automatic, and personnel is discontinued.”

Coinjock Lighthouse Reservation Keeper Bill Tate (who answered the Wright Brothers' letter decades earlier when he was the Kitty Hawk postmaster) takes over Currituck Beach Lighthouse duties. "…by planning his trips, the shorter run can usually be made, in approximately 3 hours time round trip. In order to charge the…
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July, 1939 – The U.S. Coast Guard assumes responsibility for all national lighthouses
July, 1939 – The U.S. Coast Guard assumes responsibility for all national lighthouses

U.S. Coast Guard assumes responsibility for all national lighthouses, taking over for the (now-defunct) Bureau of Light-Houses.

1945 (approximately) – The U.S. Coast Guard vacates the Currituck Beach Lighthouse property after World War II
1945 (approximately) – The U.S. Coast Guard vacates the Currituck Beach Lighthouse property after World War II

As such, the site is not maintained and begins its transition into disrepair. Plans were made to update the Keepers' Dwelling, although the repairs never took place, due to abandonment.

January, 1952 – The 31-acre tract associated with the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is sold by the United States of America
January, 1952 – The 31-acre tract associated with the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is sold by the United States of America

The State of North Carolina paid $3,000 for "muskrat experimentation and research, recreational, or other public purposes…"

October, 1973
October, 1973

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

January 30, 1980 – Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc. is incorporated
January 30, 1980 – Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc. is incorporated

With plans to restore the 1876 Keepers' Dwelling, the group enters into a long-term lease with the State of North Carolina.

July 21, 1990
July 21, 1990

Currituck Beach Lighthouse opens to the public.

October, 1993
October, 1993

The storehouse, which was moved down the road into Corolla Village around 1960, returns to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse site. Today, it is used as an administrative office.

1980 – 2002
1980 – 2002

Extensive repairs and renovations begin on the Currituck Beach Lighthouse Keepers' Dwelling and tower in 1990. For major restoration work on the tower, Outer Banks Conservationists hired International Chimney Corporation beginning in 1999. Larger tasks over the decades have included: lead paint removal, masonry repair, iron repair, rust removal, re-painting,…
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October 17, 2003
October 17, 2003

The deed for Currituck Beach Lighthouse is transferred to Outer Banks Conservationists by the Department of the Interior.

Present
Beach Lighthouse and its Keepers in 1893

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse remains open to the public 7 days per week during the season, which runs mid-March – December. Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc. continues to maintain and complete all preservation work on the tower, and all structures within the Lighthouse compound.

Lighthouse Quick Facts

When the lighthouse was first illuminated

When the lighthouse was automated

Average length of the self-guided climb (but take as much time as you’d like!)

Steps to the top

Number of landings for viewing and resting

Approximate number of bricks in the lighthouse

Height of the lighthouse from the ground to the top

How much the lighthouse weighs. That’s 3,000 tons!