17 Facts About Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

When strolling along the downtown Manteo waterfront, it's hard to miss the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse and the boardwalk leading to the most-photographed structure on the island. We've put together a list of facts about Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse below; there is so much history to tell!

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse Manteo NC Waterfront Outer Banks

Believe it or not, this is not the first Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse; it's the fourth. The first Roanoke Marshes began operating in 1831, the second in 1858, and the third in 1877. On the downtown Manteo waterfront, the landmark you see in front of you is a replica of the third rendition of Roanoke Marshes.

The first of the three lighthouses operated from 1831 to 1839. Then, unfortunately, Roanoke Marshes was abandoned for various reasons: its original location being hazardous, storms and decay considerably damaging it, and it required extensive repairs, and it sat on private property without the owner's permission. How the property owners allowed them to build a lighthouse on their land without raising concern is beyond my understanding.

Located in the narrow channel connecting Pamlico and Croatan Sounds, the second beacon began operation in April of 1858. Fast forward about 20 years later, the marsh beneath the lighthouse was eroded, and the structure had been badly damaged from frequent flooding. Although repairs to the structure were made, simply building a new lighthouse would prove a cheaper alternative than continuing to poor money for rehabilitation into the second version of Roanoke Marshes.

In 1877 the third lighthouse was operational and located about 200 feet to the south-southeast from lighthouse number two. This time the structure faired much better and wasn't decommissioned by the United States Coast Guard until 1955. A man by the name of Emmett Wiggins from nearby Edenton, NC, purchased the lighthouse and attempted to move it with a barge. Unfortunately, however, his attempt to relocate the lighthouse was unsuccessful. 

To fund construction, Congress appropriated $15,000 in March of 1875 towards the third Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the construction of the new beacon was postponed for months. Finally, in July of 1876, Congress funded an additional $5,000, and construction resumed.

In July of 1891, the light used to guide seafaring men and women was swapped from fixed red to fixed white with a red sector to mark the various obstructions in the Croatan Sound. This update to the beacon color was facilitated by using plates of ruby glass in the lantern room.

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Much shorter than Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras Lighthouses to the south, Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse stands just 37-feet tall.

Various Outer Banks lighthouses played a role during the Civil War. Confederates took Roanoke Marshes out of service shortly after the outbreak of the War in 1861. The beacon was operational once again in 1863.

Lucius Lyon from Michigan oversaw the construction of the first lighthouse, which began operation in 1831. Littlejohn Pugh served as its primary lighthouse keeper.

The museum inside the lighthouse features educational exhibits and historical items and is 100% free to enjoy.

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse was first introduced and opened during a special ceremony on September 25, 2004 along with the neighboring George Washington Creef Boathouse on the downtown Manteo waterfront.

Like Ocracoke Island Lighthouse to the south, Roanoke Marshes uses a fourth-order Fresnel lens that's technically on loan from the United States Coast Guard. 

This is the only lighthouse on the Outer Banks that sits on stilts above water. Unlike the other lighthouses, Roanoke Marshes (the previous versions, not the replica) were intended to aid vessels navigating through the sound waters; other OBX lighthouses guided mariners through the treterous waters off the coast of North Carolina that's commonly referred to as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic". 

If you are visiting the Outer Banks during the Fourth of July, consider watching the fireworks from the dock of the lighthouse. There is ample parking in downtown Manteo (so long as you arrive early enough), and the town shoots fireworks off near the waterfront. And please, leave the fireworks to the professionals as they are banned for use along North Carolina's coast.

Are you recently engaged? Consider having your special day on the waterfront with the lighthouse as your backdrop! Each year, brides and grooms tie the knot in front of this picturesque Outer Banks landmark. For more information, contact the Town of Manteo. 

We hope you've learned a thing or two about this Outer Banks gem. Please let us know in the comments section below which fact is your favorite!

Did you enjoy reading this article? We invite you to visit the articles below to learn more about the various lighthouses of the Outer Banks of North Carolina!

1 comment

  • We’re visiting OBX next week 3/13-3/17. Will we Currituck LH and Roanoake LH be open to visit / climb?

    Carol Hammond

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