- Posted July 31, 2014 by
Edenton, North Carolina
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The lure of lighthouses
Rare Lighthouse Celebrates with Intrigue on National Lighthouse Day 2014
UPDATE! THE LIGHTHOUSE WILL BE OPEN FOR TOURS INSIDE AUGUST 16, 2014
The Roanoke River Lighthouse is the last screw-pile light house in the state of North Carolina. I discovered her recently, when I was traveling through North Carolina. The quaint and historic little town of Edenton is well worth an excursion off the beaten path, especially in 2014.
Edenton invites visitors to come see her August 7 in honor of National Lighthouse Day and learn how a Lightkeeper lived there in the early days, to maintain the lights credited with guiding so many seafarers safely through the shoals and perils of the Carolina coast.
The Roanoke River in Virginia and North Carolina was an important route to and from the ocean for trade and transportation, and gained its fame for fortunes as far back as the 1700s, but getting to it from the treacherous coast of the Carolinas was the death of many a sailor .
Alexander Mitchell, an engineer who also happened to be blind, is credited with developing and patenting his unique design for the screw-pile lighthouses in the early to mid 1800s in Europe.
Soon, the US was using the concept and building them to replace the old and fragile lightships in this country.
The design was perfect to anchor a structure to the soft, sandy or muddy bottoms in North Carolina and over 100 are suspected to have been built here and literally screwed into the soft bottoms of the states waterways.
In 1866, the first Roanoke River Lighthouse was built in Bachelors Bay, off the Albermarle Sound near the coast.
Despite its uniquely engineered stability, this lighthouse was fraught with everything Mother Nature could throw at it, including fire since whale oil was used originally to light its lamps. And that's exactly what caused its demise in the Spring of 1885.
Part of the allure to this design however, is that it's quick and easy to construct so with a little begging and some borrowing, in only a few months the new light house was up and running again.
Large ice floes in their rivers aren't a problem for North Carolinians in this area nowadays, but back in January 1886, that's what again caused the almost fatal demise of this ill-fated light when it was knocked into the water.
By then, North Carolinians had learned a thing or two and this time they rebuilt it as a sturdier two-story with a Fresnel lens mounted on a corner and steel screws. It reopened in February 1887 and operated until 1941.
Fate, eccentricities and kings ransoms hadn't finished with it yet however, and more history and more moves were in store for it.
In 1955, Elijah Tate bought the worn out lighthouse from the US Coast Guard and sold it to his tug boat operator friend, Emmett Wiggins for a whopping $10. After a bit of wrangling and a lot of disassembling its touted screw-piles, Wiggins literally floated it across the river and made it his home from about 1960 to 1995, when he died at age 74.
The local historical society tried to finalize the transaction they'd started with Wiggins, but write that his heirs wanted a "kings ransom" for the historically significant but collapsing old light so they parted ways.
But this ol' light had one more notch to carve in her gun, when in 2007 she survived the historic and deadly Hurricane Isabel, albeit barely. Houses around her were damaged or destroyed and soon the encroaching vines and grasses that thrive in this climate began to take over and cause further decay.
Once again, a concerned and loyal historical society stepped in and she was hoisted up and floated to Colonial Park at Edenton Harbor to begin her renovation.
An uncanny twist of fate and a keen sense of smell one man had for industrial chemicals lurking near her however, sent her to her original destiny, back in the water once again in 2010 where she stands today.
The popular landmark and testimony to mans creativity and tenacity is known to be the only one of its kind in NC, and some historians believe it is the only remaining screw-pile lighthouse in the U.S.
For more information:
The National Lighthouse Day celebration will begin at 9am on August 7 and continue until 5PM at Colonial Park at South Broad and West Water Streets in Edenton.
Call 252-482-2637 for more information.
A renovation plan has been announced for the inside now as well, and donations and furniture are being collected so it can be open for tours.
Visit www.edentonlighthouse.org/donation for information and more about tours inside.
www.visitedenton.com/where-to-stay guides you to the cozy towns historic B&Bs and nearby lodging.
Watch a time lapse of the exterior renovation at www.edentonlighthouse.org
Read a thorough and detailed account of it's captivating history at www.edentonlighthouse.org/history.php and at