Cape Lookout Lighthouse

Artistic Rendering of the first
Cape Lookout Lighthouse
The Fulford family, some of the first to settle in "Core Sound," played a prominent role in the early days of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. An entry in the records at the Carteret County Courthouse shows the 1804 gift of land by Joseph Fulford and Elijah Pigott for the erection of a lighthouse on Cape Lookout

"We, Joseph Fulford and Elijah Pigott of the County of Carteret and State of North Carolina, in consideration of the sum of $1 paid to us by the United States of America, the receipt whereof we do hereby acknowledge, do hereby, give, grant, bargain, sell . . . to the said United States of America four acres of land on Cape Lookout so-called in the State aforesaid for the accommodation of a lighthouse to be erected in pursuance of the Act of Congress pased on the 20th day of March 1804." (Deed Book O,   page 427) Fulford also specified that he retain the fishing rights around Cape Lookout in perpetuity for his descendants.

Built on a sand dune, at a cost of $20,678.54, the 96-foot brick tower was encircled by a hexagonal wooden tower covered in cedar shingles and painted with wide, horizontal red and white stripes. It began service in 1812.

The first known keeper of the light was James M. Fulford (1755-1839), who was appointed by President James Madison on June 2, 1812, with a yearly salary of $300. James, married to Rebecca Harker, served as keeper for 16 years. In 1828, James’ son, William Fulford (1786-1864) became keeper and served until 1854. [In 1848, William's daughter, Julia Ann Fulford, married Dr. James Lente Manney of Beaufort.]

In 1850, keeper William Fulford described the lighthouse as having 13 oil lamps. Oil was stored in a small oil shed. At that time, William had to continually remove sand from the front side of the keeper’s house. “The sand banks are now higher than the tops of the windows, and only a few feet from them, at high water mark. On the sea side, it has washed away about 100 feet last year by abrasion and sea flows.” In serious disrepair, the need for a new lighthouse was apparent not only due to erosion, but also due to the fact that the tower was too low. In 1856 a fresnel lens was installed, but it wasn’t until 1857 that Congress appropriated $45,000 for a new lighthouse.

First lit on November 1, 1859, the second Cape Lookout Lighthouse proved to be a model for the other lighthouses that would be built along the Outer Banks. It was made of red brick, displayed the Fresnel lens from the old tower and could be seen for 19 miles.

Josiah Fisher Bell, Beaufort Collector of Customs, served as an agent in the Confederate Secret Service during the Civil War. Appointed Superintendent of Lights for the Beaufort District of the Confederate Lighthouse Bureau, Bell had the lenses removed, from Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Bogue Banks Lighthouse, and placed in storage in a warehouse in Beaufort. In the spring of 1862, Bell was responsible for blowing up the lighthouses on Cape Lookout; the old lighthouse destroyed, the new one only damaged. (Josiah Fisher Bell (1820‒1890), son of Josiah Bell and Mary Fisher, married Susan Benjamin Leecraft in 1841; Susan was daughter of Benjamin Leecraft who lived across Turner Street from the Josiah Bell House on the Restoration Grounds.) 

After the Civil War, Congress appropriated $20,000 for repairs and updating. Wooden stairs were replaced with cast iron and a new lens was installed. In 1871, an additional $5000 was appropriated for a new keeper’s dwelling, complete with summer kitchen and woodshed.

In 1873, the keeper's cottage - large enough to house two keepers and their families - was completed, and the tower painted. Because the four lights on the Outer Banks were so similar, the Lighthouse Board designed striking patterns for each to make them easily distinguishable. Cape Lookout Lighthouse was painted with large checkers that appear as alternating black and white diamonds. Following the traditional day-mark aids to navigation, the black checkers are oriented north and south toward the shallow waters of the shoals and around the headlands, while the white checkers are oriented east and west facing the deeper waters. 

After two world wars, in 1950, the light was completely automated—a keeper no longer needed. The grounds are owned by the National Park Service and many ferries operate in the area - from Beaufort and Harkers Island. 

Head Keepers - dates of appointment and service
(National Park Service)
First Lighthouse
James Fulford - June 2, 1812
William Fulford - January 28, 1828
John Ross Royal - January 17, 1854
Second lighthouse completed on November 1, 1859
Gayer Chadwick - February 24, 1863 until May 1864
John R. Royal - May 25, 1864 until May 21, 1869
Manoen Washington Mason - May 21, 1869 until August 19, 1876
Melvin Jennings Davis, Jr. - appointed Acting Keeper on August 22, 1876
 (Keeper from March 13, 1877 until July 11, 1878)
William F. Hatsel - July 12, 1878 until November 24, 1880
Denard Rumley - appointed Acting Keeper on December 14, 1880 
(Keeper from February 28, 1881 until February 21, 1893)
Thomas Clifford Davis, Jr. - appointed Acting Keeper in 1893 
(Keeper from February 22, 1895 until April 10, 1900)
James Wilson Gillikin - June 1, 1900 until March 11, 1903
Alfred B. Hooper - November 1, 1903 until February 10, 1909
Charles W. Clifton - October 2, 1909 until approximately 1930
Benjamin Lloyd Harris - July 1, 1933 until approximately 1936
James Archie Newton - 1939 until approximately 1945
(it is unclear if Newton was a Keeper or a U.S. Coast Guard Officer in charge of the light)