Light Houses Of North Carolina: Roanoke Light House
In 1835 The Roanoke River Light, a three-masted sailing ship converted into a light station, was erected to guide sailors to North Carolina's Roanoke River.
In the early 1800s, light stations were placed at strategic points like the mouths of rivers to aid in navigation. There were 8 in the Albemarle Sound off the coast of North Carolina. In 1835 Congress funded the construction of a light vessel for the mouth of the Roanoke River. A three-masted sailing ship was converted into a light station and came to be known as the Roanoke Marshes Lightship. Whale-oil lights covered with red, green & blue lenses helped sailors find safe entrance to the river.
Back in its day, the lightship sat atop a bunch of metal "legs" that suspended it over the water. The lightkeeper gained access to the shore via a rowboat slung from the legs. Most keepers didn't get out of the lighthouse too often, and many times, their families lived with them as well, so the rowboat was sufficient for the infrequent times that the lightkeeper had to go ashore.
The Confederacy took over the light vessel during the Civil War but it was soon retaken by Union forces when they captured the town of Plymouth. It is believed that the station may have been taken up-river and scuttled with others to block the passage of the ironclad Ram Albemarle.
A screwpile lighthouse was built to replace the light vessel around 1886. Later a winter storm froze the Albemarle Sound and when the ice began to thaw, two of the pilings collapsed, causing the station to fall into the water. This lighthouse was replaced in 1887 and remained until it was decommissioned in the 1950s.
After the Roanoke Lighthouse was decommissioned it was sold, as were most light stations and, most were destroyed during the tricky process of moving them. However, the Roanoke Lighthouse is the last remaining lighthouse that was one of dozens of screwpile lighthouses that used to sit in the Pamlico, Albermarle, and Croatan Sounds. It was purchased by the owner of a ship salvage operation who successfully moved it to Edenton. Although it is now used as a private cottage, it can be easily seen from Hollowell Park across the street.