The Oak Island Lighthouse

Where: Oak Island, North Carolina

Trip Date: 10/6/17

After almost two months I was finally able to take my trip to Wilmington, North Carolina. I saw enough cool stuff while I was there for several posts, but I am going to spread them out over the next few weeks. This week I will talk about the Oak Island Lighthouse because, frankly, we are overdue for a lighthouse post. This will be a very short post, as this lighthouse is the youngest I have yet visited. But that is ok, because I am currently preparing for a three-week trip to Barbados and still have some packing to do. So I am scheduling the next few posts in advance while I am away, but when I get back in November you can expect some drawings of the Caribbean, and, of course, more lighthouses.

Some Backstory

Lighthouses have been guarding the hazardous shores of North Carolina for centuries, and the Cape Fear area especially has a long history of lights guiding ships past Frying Pan Shoals into the Cape Fear River to the Port of Wilmington. The first lighthouse was constructed around 1795 on Bald Head Island, and was replaced in 1817 with a “new” light (the 1817 tower still stands and I plan to visit when I have a chance). In 1903 an even newer—and taller—wrought iron and steel tower was lit on the island, the Cape Fear Light.

Cape Fear Light

Cape Fear Light, no longer standing.

By the 1950s, the Coast Guard was moving toward automated lights to save money and time. Since electricity wouldn’t come to Bald Head Island until the 70s, the Cape Fear Light was torn down in favor of a new light at Caswell beach on Oak Island near an existing Coast Guard station.

Oak Island Lighthouse

Oak Island Light

My on-location sketch of Oak Island Light.

Oak Island Light color

About half an hour outside of Wilmington, just across the Intracoastal Waterway, I came across yet another lighthouse. The Oak Island Lighthouse is one of the newest functioning lighthouses in the United States—although I could not find a source that explicitly states so, it may be the second youngest after Sullivan’s Island Light in Charleston. At the time the tower was first lit in 1958 it was the brightest lighthouse in the U.S. and the second brightest in the world.

The tower stands 153 feet tall, and unlike most lighthouses it has no spiral staircase. Instead, the climb to the top consists of a series of “ship’s ladders” of 131 steps. Excursions to the top are offered throughout the summer; unfortunately I was about a week late for that. Interestingly, the structure is designed not to sway at all in winds of 100 miles per hour, a useful trait in an area prone to storms.

Oak Island Light Alternate

An alternate view of Oak Island Lighthouse.

I know this has been a relatively short history, but frankly, this lighthouse doesn’t have much. My father has more history than the Oak Island Lighthouse. But it was an interesting visit nonetheless.

By | 2017-10-16T22:21:05+00:00 October 20th, 2017|History, North Carolina|2 Comments

About the Author:

James is an artist and illustrator currently working in Georgia.


  1. Sandy Stryker October 20, 2017 at 11:13 pm - Reply

    Just how much history does Morton have?

    • James McInvale October 21, 2017 at 4:41 am - Reply

      Nearly a decade more than this lighthouse.

Leave A Comment