Header background

The Move of the Millennium: Moving the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The Move of the Millennium: Moving the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Photo: Photography Life

When it comes to landmarks along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, none are as well-known or frequently visited as the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The iconic lighthouse—which stands 193 feet in height—is the tallest lighthouse in the United States and attracts approximately 200,000 visitors each year, making it one of the most popular attractions from Corolla to Ocracoke Island. Situated in the heart of Buxton on Hatteras Island, the famous black-and-white spiraled structure has stood watch over the Graveyard of the Atlantic for centuries, warning sailors of the treacherous sandbars and shifting shoals that lie just off the coast of barrier islands.

Photo: National Geographic

However, in 1999—nearly 200 years after the construction process was complete and the lighthouse was lit for the very first time—the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse found itself threatened by the ever-encroaching Atlantic Ocean. Decade after decade of converging currents, strong surf and storms ranging from minor nor’easters to massive hurricanes caused the ocean to slowly but surely swallow up stretches of the sandbar on which the lighthouse stood, leaving the tower increasingly vulnerable to the white-capped waves and the threat of imminent destruction.

Photo: National Park Service

In 1893, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was recorded as standing 1,500 feet from the shoreline, but less than a century later, in 1975, only 175 feet stood between the structure and the pounding surf. When cracks were found in the walls of the tower, the lighthouse was closed to the public. Five years later, when the lighthouse stood just 50 feet from the ocean, U.S. Senator Helms and North Carolina Gov. Hunt teamed up with others who feared the damaged structure would be lost to the sea if left in its current condition, and the Save the Lighthouse Committee was formed. The National Park Service requested an independent study of the lighthouse’s precarious position be performed, and the results included the recommendation that the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse eventually be moved to a spot farther away from the sea.

Photo: Pinterest

Attempting to buy some time before the structure had to be relocated, the National Park Service called for restoration of the cracks in the tower that had forced the closure of this Outer Banks landmark. The restoration process began in 1990, and once the cracks were fixed and visitors could once again safely climb the 257 steps inside the lighthouse to reach the top, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse reopened to the public in 1993. In the years that followed, the erosion continued, and the epic waves that attract so many surfers to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore each year had stripped away all but a small sliver of sandbar that separated the base of the tower from the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo: Lighthouse Friends

In order to save the lighthouse from eventual devastation, the National Park Service had to pick one of three options for ultimately preventing the structure from falling into the sea: reinforcing the existing jetties that were designed to stretch into the surf and reduce the impact of wave action on the island; constructing a seawall around the lighthouse so that it would eventually end up sitting atop its own island in the ocean; or move it to a safer location a bit further inland. Although there was widespread support for all three options, in the end it was determined that the best option for protecting the tower was moving the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse farther away from the surf that constantly threatened it. In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed a relocation budget, and the plans to perform the so-called “move of the millennium” were officially prepared.

Photo: National Park Service

Although smaller lighthouses had been moved in other coastal states in years past, moving the tallest lighthouse in the United States was no small feat—and no structure of its scale had ever been relocated before. A New York-based company called International Chimney Corp. was contracted to move the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse with the help of another contractor, Expert House Movers of Maryland. In order to move the structure from its perilous position by the sea, the lighthouse—which weighed 4,830 tons—would have to be lifted off its foundation and transferred to a transport system that would ultimately move it along a predetermined route to its new location, where it would be placed atop an all-new foundation.

Photo: Island Free Press

The first step in the process of moving the lighthouse was to replace the original foundation with temporary supports and shoring beams. A series of cross beams and main beams were then set, allowing the temporary supports to be moved. The structure was then raised six feet off its foundation by hydraulic jacks that were built into the main beams. Once the structure was raised, rollers and roll beams were inserted. The jacks were shored with the use of oak cribbing, and the system was pressurized and lifted again by the jacks. As the structure was lifted off its foundation a little at a time, the jacks were retracted and shored up several times before it was once again lifted to six feet and ready to begin its journey down a pathway through the sand to its new location nearly 3,000 feet from the spot where it currently stood.

Photo: Pinterest

On June 17, 1999, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse captured the attention of people across the country and around the world, as it started its slow and deliberate journey to the southwest. The support frame moved along its track to the new location with the assistance of roller dollies and steel track beams that served as rails. The lighthouse was kept carefully aligned by three zones of hydraulic jacks, which prevented the structure from swaying and potentially tipping over. The support frame was pulled forward toward the new lighthouse location just five feet at a time by a series of push jacks that were clamped to the track. Sixty automated sensors placed in various positions on the lighthouse constantly measured the load’s tilt and vibration, and a weather sensor attached to the top of the lighthouse kept tabs on the temperature and wind speed throughout the entire moving process.

Photo: OuterBanks.org

Three weeks after the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse began its 2,900-foot journey from its perilous perch on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean the move was complete, and the structure was placed on top of its new foundation. The lighthouse joined several other structures that had been relocated from the original lighthouse site earlier that year, including the principal keeper’s quarters, the double keeper’s quarters, an oil house and cisterns. Finally saved from years spent facing the risk of tumbling into the ocean that had continuously eroded the shoreline over which it stood watch for centuries, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse reopened to the public on November 13, 1999, and once again resumed its status as one of the most iconic landmarks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncover the History of Hatteras Island at the Frisco Native American Museum

Photo: Alterra

When it comes to tourist attractions on the barrier islands of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the first ones that typically come to mind for most vacationers are the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the Lost Colony and the many fishing piers that extend from the shoreline into the crashing surf along our coastline’s beaches. But for those looking for a unique local attraction that’s a little off the beaten path, a journey to the village of Frisco on Hatteras Island to tour the Frisco Native American Museum is a must.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

The Frisco Native American Museum and Natural History Center was founded in 1987 when Carl Bornfield and his wife, Joyce, decided to turn their shared love for historical preservation into an attraction that tourists visiting the Outer Banks on vacation could enjoy during their stay on Hatteras Island. Before it became the museum and natural history center, the building—which is nearly a century old itself—served as a general store, post office and shell shop in decades past.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

For the first few years after the museum was opened to the public, its founders—who had full-time jobs as educators outside the museum—only opened its doors for tours Friday through Sunday during the school year and seven days a week during the summer season. In 1989, the owners acquired a tract of land that would be used as a natural trail that winds through the neighboring maritime forest, and a year later, when Carl no longer taught full time, the museum began to stay open six days a week throughout the entire year.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

As time went on, the nonprofit museum and history center was slowly expanded to meet the needs of its influx in visitors. In 1991, a pavilion was added along the nature trail, and in 1995—after Hurricane Emily thrust more than three feet of water through the building—a two-story addition was built. This addition would serve was a research facility and expanded storage space; it also freed up space for the founders to convert the area that had been a small gift shop into the natural history center portion of the facility.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

As the museum grew more popular among visitors, the need for additional renovations became evident as well. In 2005, the gift shop was relocated and a small bookstore was created, adding more than 1,000 square feet of space to be used as a new display room. The natural history center received the addition of a small observation room that overlooks the bird yard, and a floating dock was built along the nature trail out back.  

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

The series of renovations the Frisco Native American Museum and Natural History Center has undergone over the years has helped to cement the facility’s status as one of the finest historical attractions on the Outer Banks. Today, the museum features an assortment of displays and artifacts detailing the region’s unique history, and also boasts a wide array of educational and informative programs for visitors of all ages.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

This summer, visitors can attend two special programs at the museum. At 2 p.m. on Fridays from through August 25, 2017, museum-goers can experience the “Talking Sticks” program. During this program, attendees are invited to create their own talking stick—a tool that was passed from one speaker to the next when a tribal council was called—and learn how to use it as the natives of Hatteras Island may have centuries ago.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

At 3 p.m. on Fridays through August 25, 2017, a program called “Hatteras Island Original Inhabitants: Croatoans” is held at the museum. During this program, attendees will learn about the Croatoans, a group of Native Americans that were some of the very first people to call Hatteras Island and the Outer Banks home. This program explores the archaeological evidence that has been discovered from the Croatans’ time spent on the islands and allows visitors to learn what village life would have been like here in the late 1500s.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

For those who don’t just want to tour the facility, attend the programs and browse the displays, the Frisco Native American Museum and Natural History Center will hold its fourth “Volunteer Days” event this fall. From October 27-30, 2017, the nonprofit facility will welcome volunteers on the nature trail to help with the construction of a longhouse and gardens on the property. Whether you’re a vacationer just passing through or a local looking for a one-of-a-kind way to get involved with a historical attraction on Hatteras Island, the Frisco Native American Museum has something to offer everyone who finds themselves on the Outer Banks this season.

Footer background

Let Us Know

© 2017 The Coastal Cottage Company. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Web Design