Haveyou ever been to Manteo?
Ifyou've visited this quaint island town in the NC Outer Banks, you may havenoticed a picturesque structure at the end of a wooden pier just east of thedowntown area. It's the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse... and it's unlike any tower-stylelighthouse you've ever seen.
Tobegin with, it's much shorter - just 37 feet high. Plus, it's considerablynewer - built in 2003-2004 as an exact historical replica of an identicalearlier lighthouse.
Aboveall - as you'll see at a glance - this lighthouse is designed very differently.Unlike those classic white brick towers with their iconic black stripes, theRoanoke Marshes Lighthouse looks more like a seaside cottage, complete with asloping red roof, charming gabled windows, and traditional black shutters. Onlythe fenced observation deck and cupola-style lantern room clearly indicate itslighthouse function.
But,while it may not stand as high as the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (198.5 feet abovesea level) or the Bodie Island Lighthouse (156 feet high), the Roanoke Marsheslight station is well worth a special visit... especially if you love exploringunusual sights in scenic, secluded spots.
Notonly does it offer gorgeous waterfront views; it's also packed with fascinatingartifacts from a bygone seafaring era. Plus, it's located right across from theRoanoke Maritime Museum, which offers a treasure-trove of cool displaysshowcasing the Outer Banks' rich nautical heritage.
Different Style, Different Function
Whydoes the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse look so different from the tower-stylelighthouses you're used to? It's a river lighthouse, not a coastal one, so itwas originally built to handle a very different job.
Coastallighthouses - like the one at Cape Hatteras - guided ocean mariners to safety.Their lights had to reach far out to sea - up to 20 miles - so their lanternswere hung much higher.
Riverlighthouses, by contrast, guided boat traffic on rivers, bays, inlets, sounds,and channel entrances. Their lights did not have to reach as far, so they couldbe hung lower down. That's why most river lighthouses are shorter and squatter- usually square, hexagonal, or octagonal.
What'smore, since around 1850, most American river lighthouses have been built onscrew-piles - long metal piles driven deep into the ground for structural supportand stability.
A Colorful Outer Banks History
Thestory of the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse goes back to 1831, when a simple, modestlight station began steering merchant and fishing craft safely into CroatanSound. Unfortunately, within eight years, this early lighthouse fell intodisrepair. Its light keeper simply abandoned it, and that was that.
In1858 a second lighthouse - a hexagonal structure - was built at the same site.But by the early 1870s, this station, too, was abandoned, after severe erosion hadundermined its foundation.
Thethird Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse opened in 1877. Supported by screw-piles, itstood offshore, not on a pier, at the southern entrance to Croatan Sound. (That'sright - it was literally in thewater.) Decommissioned in 1955, it was then sold to a private buyer, who triedto move it inland. That's when this square, white lighthouse was lost in thewaters of the sound. It has never been recovered.
Today'sRoanoke Marshes Lighthouse replicates this 1877 structure. Completed in 2004,it is authentic in every detail, right down to its fourth-order Fresnel lens(now powered by electricity, not whale oil!).
What to Expect When You Visit
Readyto explore the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse? It's open to the public in spring,summer, and early fall, usually on Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 5p.m. Inside you'll find colorful exhibits highlighting Roanoke Island's storiedhistory. You'll learn about the legendary Lost Colony, about Civil War fortsand battles, and much more.
Evenwhen the lighthouse isn't open, you'll still find plenty to see and do. Stroll alongthe boardwalk, relax on a waterfront bench, and be sure to take plenty ofphotos of beautiful Roanoke Sound and bustling downtown Manteo. If you're therein the evening, you can even snap some pics of sunset over the sound - a trulymagnificent sight.
Plus,don't forget to visit the nearby Maritime Museum in the George Washington CreefBoathouse. Here you can view historical watercraft, including the NorthCarolina Shad boat Ella View, built in 1883. You can also browse fascinatingexhibits, participate in maritime-skills workshops, and even witnesstraditional Roanoke Island boat building in the working boat shop. Open year 'round,the museum offers special educational programs, youth sailing lessons, anannual regatta, and more.
Foreasiest access to the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, park in the free publicparking area next to the bulkhead docks just off downtown Manteo.
So Much to See, So Little Time
TheRoanoke Marshes Lighthouse is just one of countless hidden treasures in theNorth Carolina Outer Banks. You'll find many more fascinating sights throughoutthese breathtaking barrier islands - from the unspoiled Nags Heads Woods, withfive miles of scenic hiking trails, to the legendary Canadian Hole, thewindsurfers' summer paradise on sparkling Pamlico Sound. Discover, explore, andenjoy!