|Oil painting by Clearwater, Florida artist Roger Bansemer|
"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." 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 Joseph Fulford’s son, James Fulford (1755-1839), who was appointed by President James Madison on
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
|Painting by Roger Bansemer|
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.
After two world wars, in 1950, the light was completely automated—a keeper no longer needed. Today the tower is closed to the public. Grounds are owned by the National Park Service and many ferries operate in the area - from Beaufort and Harkers Island.