10 Amazing Bodie Island Lighthouse Facts

Some of the most important structures in the world have saved countless lives over the past centuries. The signals cast by lighthouses from lamps or lenses have safely navigated ships all around the world.

Today, these amazing structures not only serve their intended purpose but have also become popular tourist attractions. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Bodie Island Lighthouse, one of the most fascinating of all in the United States.

1. It’s located on an island of the Outer Banks in North Carolina

The Bodie Island Lighthouse is one of the most fascinating landmarks on Bodie Island, a barrier peninsula that makes up the northern part of the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

The Outer Banks is a 200-mile (320 kilometers) stretch of barrier islands located off the coast of North Carolina and the southeastern part of Virginia on the East Coast of the United States. It’s a popular tourist destination as it features both scenic views and wildlife refuges.

The closest town in the area is Nags Head which is located just north of the lighthouse. The mainland of North Carolina can easily be reached via Roanoke Island which is located just west of this famous landmark.

Bodie Island lighthouse and keepers house
The lighthouse and keeper’s house / Milepost Photography / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

2. It’s the third lighthouse that stood in this area

This section of the Outer Banks was the perfect location to build a lighthouse, an idea that was first materialized back in the 19th century. The first version of the lighthouse was completed way back in 1847.

Unfortunately, just a few years after it was completed, structural problems arose and a new version had to be built in 1859. This second tower reached a height of 80 feet (24 meters) but was blown to bits by Confederate troops during the American Civil War in 1861.

Remarkably, both original lighthouses were located on Pea Island which is further south. This area became flooded which means that the third lighthouse was built further north in 1871.

3. It’s one of the tallest lighthouses in the United States

The engineers in charge of building the third version of the lighthouse didn’t take any chances. They built it much further north, as well as further inland in a part of Bodie Island that covers about 15 acres (6 hectares).

The tower also nearly reached double the height of the lighthouse that was completed in 1859. It stands 156 feet (47.57 meters) tall which makes it one of the tallest lighthouses in the United States.

The tallest lighthouse in the United States isn’t too far away either. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse stands 210 feet (64 meters) tall and is located just south in the town of Buxton, North Carlina, also on the Outer Banks.

Bodie Island lighthouse height
A view of the tall structure / Ryan G Rodgers / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

4. The lighthouse still operates using the original Fresnel Lens

One of the most remarkable facts about the Bodie Island Lighthouse is that the third version of the structure operates using a first-order Fresnel Lens, similar to the Point Bonita Lighthouse near San Francisco. Both previous versions operated using a third-order Fresnel Lens.

This particular type of lens was named after its inventor, French Physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788-1827). It allows for a lens much more compact in design and has therefore been dubbed as “the invention that saved a million ships.”

The lighting system was partially automated back in 1932 and the Double Keeper’s Quarters were restored and turned into an exhibit space featuring interesting lighthouse artifacts. The operation of the lighthouse became fully automated in 1940.

5. It has been possible to climb to the top of the lighthouse since 2013

The attraction of this magnificent structure has always been there, but it wasn’t possible to climb the lighthouse until fairly recently.

There have, however, been guided tours ever since 1953, the year that the management of the lighthouse was transferred to the National park Service of the United States.

A renovation project was started in 2009 but was delayed quite a bit due to structural problems and Hurricane Irene in 2011. The project was completed and a so-called “re-lighting ceremony” was conducted on April 18, 2013.

This means that since then, it has been possible to climb to the top of the Bodie Island Lighthouse and get some of the most amazing views of the Outer Banks imaginable!

Bodie Island lighthouse top section
Detail of the top section / Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA

More interesting facts about the Bodie Island Lighthouse

6. The management of the Bodie Island Lighthouse is conducted by the NPS as part of the much larger Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This preserve has a length of about 70 miles (110 kilometers) and the lighthouse is located in the utmost northern part of it.

Climbing the lighthouse is possible on guided tours but this service is only available during the summer months. There are also certain rules to go by so make sure to check these before purchasing a ticket.

7. This particular lighthouse is one of the only dozen remaining tall brick lighthouses in the United States.

Most of these lighthouses feature distinctive black and white bands. These marks differ among lighthouses to make them an easily identifiable daymark along the coast. In other words, these bands allow mariners to know where exactly they are during the daytime.

Bodie Island lighthouse black and white bands

8. The Fresnel Lens is a pretty powerful device. The light of the lighthouse can reach a distance of about 18 nautical miles (33 kilometers).

The focal height of the tower is about 50 meters (160 feet) which means ships can easily see it as they approach the dangerous Outer Banks. This way, they don’t become another statistic on the maps of shipwrecks that are being sold by gift shops in the region.

9. The first version of the lighthouse on Bodie Island cost $5,000 (over $166,000 today) to construct. This disastrous construction was replaced by a second version that cost $25,000 (over $823,000 today) to build, only to be blown apart 2 years later.

Luckily, there wasn’t a need to spend too much on the current version of the lighthouse because it was partially built with leftover materials of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse which was completed in 1870.

10. The lighthouse is an important historic landmark in the United States and was therefore inscribed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on July 4, 2003.

Bodie Island Lighthouse fun facts
At dusk / Milepost Photography / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en