We maintain our sites every day, using our own resources, expertise, and staff. What’s just as important as keeping these places in tip-top condition? Our ability to share their stories with you.
Stories From Our Staff
What’s in a Photograph? A Second Look at the Oldest Image of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse By: Meghan Agresto, Currituck Beach Lighthouse Site Manager & Historian Prefer to learn about this with a video? Click here if so. In June 1893, a “government surveyor,” as the lighthouse keeper called him in his journal notes that month , … Read more
How to Care for Your Sweet Potato Starter Kit Hi guys! If you’ve picked up one of our Hayman sweet potato starter kits this spring, we’re here to let you know how to care for them. We’ll be updating this page as time goes on, so you know how to care for you starter kit … Read more
By: Meghan Agresto, Currituck Beach Lighthouse Site Manager and Historian In 2018, the State Archives of North Carolina posted a blog about the many photos they had of North Carolina children in goat carts. Our State Magazine saw the blog and wrote a short article about it, which we read – and then smiled! Here’s what … Read more
Currituck Beach 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, ours was the last large lighthouse tower constructed on the Outer Banks. By its completion in December 1875, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse was alive and shining – its beams stretching 15 miles, its maintenance stewarded by loyal keepers.
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.
Want to learn everything about the Keepers that were stationed at the Currituck Beach Lighthouse since the beginning? We have a book about it – free to you, and full of incredible stories.
History of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse
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 piles at 2’8″ centers rather than 2’10”. This increased the total number of piles to 264 and distributed only 12 tons of weight per pile. He was obviously attempting to provide a strong base, since each pile could bear up to 20 tons each.” If Currituck stuck with 230 pilings then each pile bears about 13.8 tons a pile… (which, according to math above is what Morris started out with before Major Hains changed it…)
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 steamer to Norfolk, Va.”
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
The new lamp – a Heat Moderator Lamp has 5 wicks instead of 4 with the Funck’s Hydraulic Float Lamp.
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse Keeper’s request to build a schoolhouse in Corolla is recommended for approval.
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
“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, lower sunshades and put the watch room in general order. Enter on book in every detail general condition of watch. Sweep stairway on leaving tower, report to Keeper in charge at 8 a.m. for general work on reservation and tower such as painting, scrubbing paint, polishing brass repairing wood work until 12:00 noon; afternoon man on sunset duty lays in, sleeps or rests, just as he chooses 20 minutes before sunset. Man on watch enters tower preparing to have lamp burning at sunset; occasional trips of 15 miles with motor boat to transport empty oil drums and for supplies.”
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 batteries properly and inspect lamps and other equipment, the keeper would visit the station every seven (7) days, and since it will require approximately 8 hours charging each trip, he would devote a minimum of four (4) days a month on this additional work. He would pass only one of the lights in his group while proceeding to and from the station…”
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
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
The State of North Carolina paid $3,000 for “muskrat experimentation and research, recreational, or other public purposes…”
Extensive repairs and renovations begin on the Currituck Beach Lighthouse Keepers’ Dwelling and tower. For work on the tower, Outer Banks Conservationists hired International Chimney Corporation beginning in 1990. Major tasks include: lead paint removal, masonry repair, iron repair, rust removal, re-painting, window replacement, iron casting, welding, and much more.
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.
The Etheridge Family traces its beginnings on Roanoke Island back to 1757 when Adam Etheridge leased 1,500 acres of land on the North End to farm and range livestock. Today, a small, yet remaining tract of the Etheridge Farm is a now-living example of 19th-century life on Roanoke Island.
In January of 1757, Jesse Etheridge acquired a 150-acre tract from Joseph Mann. In 1787, Jesse purchased another 150 acres, which gave him access to Roanoke Sound; early maps indicate that it was on this property that he built a home. But it was Jesse’s grandson, Adam Dough Etheridge, who built the house that is the heart of Island Farm today.
In 2001, Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC) hosted a gathering of Etheridge descendants at their Homeplace, brought together to share stories, history, and photographs of their ancestral property. To commemorate the occasion, OBC distributed compiled research by Penne Smith. The research is an extensive examination into the Etheridge family’s heritage on the North End of Roanoke Island, along with the contextual issues of the time. What was grown on the Farm? How large was it? Who lived there?
The answers are fascinating, and always available for you.
History of Island Farm
The earliest known citation of the Etheridge family on Roanoke Island. In 1757, a fourteen-year tenancy agreement is made between William Cathcart of Northhampton County, North Carolina, and “Adam Everage [sic.], Currituck County… Planter” for 1500 acres. This property stretched from Dough’s Creek (formerly known as Gibson’s Creek), westward to the Croatan Sound. Years later, in an 1852 interview with Adam Etheridge, III a government surveyor discovers that “Adam Everage” is indeed the grandfather of Adam III.
The beginning of deeded and official land ownership by the Etheridge family on Roanoke Island. During this time, Jesse Etheridge and his brothers (Tart and Adam II) acquired land that formed the basis of what is now known as the Etheridge Homeplace (or as we now call it, Island Farm). The brothers acquired waterfront access to the east, greatly increasing the viability and opportunity for their farm through fishing and livestock transport. This map delineates Etheridge ownership in the 1820s.
Adam Etheridge III appears in Roanoke Island’s 1850 census as a 75-year old farmer, tilling ten acres of his 450-acre property. Twenty acres of this land is deeded to his son, Adam Etheridge IV.
Adam Etheridge IV is able to raise enough crops on 15 acres to feed his family, his slaves, and his livestock. He harvests Irish potatoes, peas, sweet potatoes, and corn, using horse and oxen power. His farm eventually included an additional 400 untilled acres on Roanoke Island plus 176 acres on Bodie Island – where his livestock foraged.
Adam Etheridge VI lives at the Etheridge Homeplace. Crissy Bowser, pictured here, works for Augustus Etheridge as a cook from 1900-1910. After that, she lives quietly on the Etheridge farm until her death years later. She was believed to be nearly 100 years old, and is reportedly buried at the foot of a large oak tree, adjacent to the present-day Island Farm.
Photographs of the Etheridge Homeplace site from this time period show a number of outbuildings and structures on site; according to family members, these included a mule barn, a small dairy house, a privy, a smokehouse, a packhouse, and fencing.
This aerial photo shows the Etheridge Homeplace site, surrounded by agriculture. The allee of cedars lining the drive from the highway to the house can be seen here. Cedar trees were transplanted by Augustus Holly Etheridge to the homeplace; the trees were noticed throughout the community.
Etheridge Homeplace is sold to a developer who planned to build a large condominium project. This is the first time that the homeplace was owned by someone other than an Etheridge in more than a century.
A period-appropriate windmill is delivered to Island Farm. It had been meticulously crafted in the late 1970s by a mill enthusiast in Nags Head. At least two windmills are documented on Roanoke Island in the 19th century. Known as a postmill for the huge central post on which the mill rotates to face the wind, one windmill was located on or near the Etheridge farm.
Roxie Christine Etheridge, one of the last Etheridges to be raised at the homeplace, dies in March. In accordance with her wishes, OBC purchases her property adjacent to Island Farm. On it stands a massive live oak tree, a tree that stood when the first colonists arrived on the island in 1587.