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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in the U.S., was built in 1870 on one of the barrier islands that constitute North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It was built 1500 feet from the shoreline and replaced a lighthouse that had been built near the present site in 1803. It is 200 feet tall and weighs approximately 2,800 tons. The Outer Banks are subject to powerful currents and storms that, in general, cause erosion of east-facing shorelines and accretion of south-facing shorelines. Thus, the east-facing shoreline in front of the lighthouse began eroding. It was feared that the shoreline would continue to recede until storm-driven waves weakened the lighthouse’s foundation and toppled it into the sea altogether. Protective measures to reduce the rate of beach erosion in front of the lighthouse had provided a temporary respite, but by late 1987, the lighthouse stood a mere 160 feet from the sea. The lighthouse had to be moved inland.

The motivation for protecting the lighthouse and its associated structures was to preserve a famous and historic landmark; modern navigational aids had outmoded its original function of protecting shipping in the stormy waters off the Outer Banks. For this reason, efforts were undertaken to move the lighthouse inland, approximately 2,500 feet to the southwest and about 1,600 feet from the east shore of Hatteras Island. This effort was completed in May of 2000 after the lighthouse had been closed to the public for 550 days. During this time it was prepared for relocation, lifted, moved, set down on a new foundation, and made ready for public visitation once again. Now the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, with its familiar black and white stripes, once again beckons to the public and to mariners alike.