It may not be as famous as its Cape Hatteras Lighthouse counterpart in Buxton, but the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is an Outer Banks attraction that should be at the top of every visitor’s must-see list while vacationing on the island’s beaches. Constructed starting in 1873, the 162-foot-tall red-brick structure was the last major lighthouse to be built on the barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is located in the heart of the historic village of Corolla in North Carolina’s Currituck County, and when the lighthouse was competed and lit for the very first time—on December 1, 1875—the beam of light it emitted into the night sky finally provided the long-awaited navigational aid mariners needed when sailing along the darkened waters of the northern Outer Banks.
For centuries, ships sailing along the Eastern Seaboard encountered difficulties navigating the treacherous shoals of the Graveyard of the Atlantic, causing many vessels to run aground and ultimately sink to the bottom of the sea floor. Before the Currituck Beach Lighthouse was constructed, the Bodie Island Lighthouse—a black-and-white striped structure located just north of Oregon Inlet on the southern edge of Nags Head—served as the only form of navigational assistance on the Outer Banks until sailors reached the Cape Hatteras Light Station more than 40 miles to the south.
This left a large expanse of dark and dangerous seashore from the Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia Beach to Coquina Beach, 34 miles to the south in Nags Head. In an effort to better light the way for vessels traveling along the coast of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, plans were drawn up to create the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and prevent future sailors from becoming disoriented as they passed just offshore of Corolla and Duck.
Comprising approximately one million red bricks, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is almost identical to the Bodie Island Lighthouse in design; however, it’s exterior was left unpainted in an attempt to differentiate it from its neighbor to the south so vessels sailing past in the daylight could easily spot and recognize the tower. The lighthouse has 220 steps that visitors must climb to reach the balcony, where they will be treated to panoramic views of the Currituck Sound (and neighboring Whalehead Club) to the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the village of Corolla to the north and the town of Duck to the south. At its base, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse’s brick walls are 5 feet 8 inches thick, tapering to a thickness of 3 feet at the parapet.
Known as a first order lighthouse, the structure is outfitted with a large Fresnel lens and emits a beacon of light that can be seen for 18 nautical miles. The beacon—which now turns on automatically as evening begins to fall and turns off at the first signs of dawn—is characterized by a 20-second flash cycle: on for three second and off for 17 seconds. In addition to warning mariners at sea that the shoreline is nearby and to keep a watchful eye on the coastline, the various light sequences that differentiate each lighthouse also inform sailors of their approximate location along the Outer Banks.
Also located on the grounds of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a Victorian-style home that was constructed adjacent to the lighthouse and designed to serve as a residence for the lighthouse keeper, assistant lighthouse keeper and their respective families. The residence was used for decades; however, when the lighthouse received access to electricity in 1933, there was no longer a need for a keeper to remain on-site. In 1937, the lighthouse keepers’ positions were eliminated entirely and the home began to slowly fall into a state of disrepair over the next 40 years.
In 1980, a group of individuals dedicated to restoring the lighthouse keepers’ home, the lighthouse and the grounds to their former glory created a nonprofit organization called the Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC). The organization spent the next three decades raising over $1 million in private funds to go toward restorations of the lighthouse and keepers’ house, as well as the costs of future maintenance and operations.
On July 1, 1990, the OBC was able to finally open the Currituck Beach Lighthouse to the public, and today this popular Outer Banks attraction receives thousands of visitors each year who stop by to take a self-guided tour of the grounds and a trip to the top of the historic structure to take in the incredible 360-degree views of the Outer Banks from above.