The first Ocracoke Lighthouse was built on Shell Castle Island in 1803, the same year that the first Cape Hatteras light station was completed. However, unlike Cape Hatteras, which is considered a coastal light, Ocracoke was (and is) considered an "inlet aid to navigation."
The first Ocracoke Light lasted from 1803 until 1818 when it was completely destroyed by lightning. It wasn't until 1823 that the U.S. Treasury decided to rebuild the light in its present location, which is very close to the village of Ocracoke.
Built by renowned Lighthouse builder, Henry Dearborn, the 76' tall masonry and stucco tower was equipped with a 4th order Fresnel lens in its unique "offset" lantern room. Irregularities in the offset lantern room are not explicitly explaned but it is presumed the lantern room was refit at some time and the refitting of a smaller lens may be the explanation. A second lens was installed in 1864 after the Confederates damaged the first one near the conclusion of the Civil War.
Still active and automated, the focal plane of the light is 75' above sealevel.
In need of restoration, the light is not open for climbing. The Ocracoke Visitor's Center is now open during summer hours from 9:00 - 5:00 except December 25. The lower portion of the tower is open so visitors can step inside and look up the old stairs. Exhibits on the natural and cultural history of Ocracoke Island and Cape Hatteras National Seashore may be viewed at the visitor center where a bookstore and restrooms are also available. Visitor's Center: (252) 928-4531
Ocracoke Island Lighthouse Restoration Info
Follow Route #12 south of Cape Hatteras for about two miles. A free ferry will take you across Ocracoke Inlet to the north tip of Ocracoke Island. Normally, the ride is about 45 minutes. Once you reach the island you will travel approximately 12 miles until you reach the Village of Ocracoke. Take the first left onto "Lighthouse Road," drive about a quarter mile, and the Lighthouse will be located on your right. The light is set back from the road about a hundred yards and the parking is very limited.
Other ferries arrive via Cedar Island and Swan Quarter, if you are traveling from the south or the east. These are not free ferries and reservations are suggested, especially June-September. For information on Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island, and Ocracoke Island Lighthouses you can call the National Park Service headquarters in Manteo, NC, at (252) 473-2111. For ferry information call 1-800-BY-FERRY.
West of the Mississippi, contact (252) 726-6446 or see http://www.ncferry.org/
Ocracoke "Live Cam" site is: http://www.ocracoke.com/live_cam/live_cam.htm