Why Does the Currituck Beach Lighthouse Need Your Help?

By: Outer Banks Conservationists Staff

As we do every so often, the Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC) signed a contract for big preservation work to be done on the Currituck Beach Lighthouse; the work began early in 2020. Since 1999, the International Chimney Corporation, (now called ICC Commonwealth) has helped us with iron, glass and brickwork in hard-to-reach spots.

We planned two mobilizations for 2020 that addressed ironwork repairs on the historic light tower in Corolla, NC. The first plan was two-fold: 1.) Remove cornice pieces from the roof of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, send them to the forge for recasting, and 2.) Replenish the two lower iron belt courses.

These jobs were simple, and planned for completion in March. By April, our contractors were set to return with the recast pieces for installation and to separate any bronze (in the batten bars, glazing bars, and receiving frame) from touching iron (in the glass panels surrounding the Fresnel lens). If iron and bronze touch, the bi-product is rust… a feature we try to avoid on the top of a lighthouse!

Exterior shot of the Lighthouse and Compound, just before 1895

Our contractors arrived in early February of 2020 and, as is to be expected, were greeted with high winds, chilly temperatures, and a variety of unexpected delays. In spite of it all, the work on the lower belt courses – cleaning, scraping, sealing crack seams, replenishing iron, priming and painting – was finished on time. 

The final part of this first mobilization was the tough one, requiring work at the very top of OBC’s 162-foot tower. The contractors scaffolded the lantern to reach the roof and began the process of finding the cornice pieces in the best shape for recasting, then removing them for their journey to the foundry. While at the top with some cornice pieces removed, our contractors realized that the lighthouse had some support brackets that also needed to be recast; such is restoration work.

ICC Commonwealth left a month after they had arrived, our cornice pieces in hand on the way towards the foundry for recasting. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse crew was ready for the arrival of the spring 2020 season, an exciting one that marked the 145th anniversary of this brick and mortar light tower. We had a clean-up day with volunteers, staff training, and routine plans to open the lighthouse to the public on March 14th. Our contractors were scheduled to return with recast roof pieces six weeks later.

As we all know, the plans changed dramatically, thanks to COVID-19.

Our contractors got out of North Carolina (and back to New York) just in time to quarantine and comply with stay at home orders. The foundry that was scheduled to recast our cornice pieces was now, of course, closed. At the lighthouse, the executive decision was made to delay our opening day: we knew we had to do our part to help “Flatten the Curve.” Shortly thereafter, the Outer Banks were closed off to non-residents by local officials. The governor issued an executive order which has been active since the spring, which effectively shutters museums for the foreseeable future.

Today, pieces of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse lantern are at the foundry, which has now reopened and is recasting our pieces. 

YouTube video

OBC will pay our contractors $345,000 for this second mobilization project. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse has remained closed since December 1, 2019: its’ longest closure since becoming the first lighthouse open to the public in North Carolina 30 years ago, in 1990.

This story explains why we’re asking for your support, in any amount that you’re able to give. We don’t ask for help often, or lightly. But we know that collective action will keep the Currituck Beach Lighthouse shining (from under an intact roof).

On December 1, 2020 The Currituck Beach Lighthouse will have “illuminated the dark space [of the] one important interval of unlighted coast on the Atlantic from the St. Croix, Maine, to Mosquito Inlet on the coast of Florida.” Usually for our birthday we invite you to join us for a free climb day. And maybe we still will be able to get people together this year? But perhaps in the meantime you want to consider an early birthday present?

We’re grateful for you.

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is supported by you.

We hope to see everyone soon!

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