The Roanoke River Lighthouse


Written by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton, decendent of the Roanoke River Lighthouse’s first lighthouse keeper.

The story of the Roanoke River Lighthouse began more than a century and a half ago in 1857, when Secretary of the U.S. Lighthouse Board Thomas Jenkins recommended permanent structures be built to replace the aging fleet of lightships in North Carolina.

Unlike the tall coastal lighthouses on shore, these lighthouses were built on screw-piles. Screw-pile lighthouses were ideal for the locations, built in the water on pilings that screwed into the muddy bottom. The shorter height of these screw-pile lighthouses sacrificed the light’s viewable distance for the advantage of reducing the impact of fog upon the light.

rriver_bechtelThe first lighthouse keeper, Thomas Clifton, brought the Roanoke River Lighthouse to life in 1867.  However, during the next seven decades the lighthouse faced several catastrophes. In 1885, a fire broke out and destroyed the original lighthouse structure. The U.S. Lighthouse Board deemed the Roanoke River Lighthouse critical for the area and diverted parts from other lighthouse projects to quickly rebuild the structure. Less than a year later the second lighthouse was knocked off its pilings by large chunks of floating ice. It wasn’t until 1887 that the third, and current, structure was complete.

In 1941, the U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse and or the next fourteen years the lighthouse would serve only as a meeting place for Sea Scouts and clandestine card games. A former Lighthouse Service employee purchased the lighthouse in 1955 for ten dollars, only to sell it a short time later to another private owner who transferred the lighthouse from its pilings to shore.  Age and the elements took their toll on the structure through the years, leaving it in a state of disrepair. EdentonNC

The Edenton Historical Commission acquired the Roanoke River Lighthouse for $225,000 in 2007, with the goal of restoring the building. In partnership with the state of North Carolina, restoration on the lighthouse began and the structure was relocated to its current home in Edenton.

In August, this modest white walled, red tin-roofed screw-pile, lighthouse is scheduled to open once more, this time to receive visitors and lighthouse enthusiasts alike.

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