ROANOKE MARSHES LIGHTHOUSE (1877 REPLICA)
Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse
1877 Exterior Reconstruction
Latitude: 35° 54' 29.6" N
Longitude: 75° 40' 05.7" W
Standing at the end of a short pier in the town of Manteo, this replica is an exterior reproduction of the former 1877 Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse that once stood guard at the southern entrance to Croatan Sound from Pamlico Sound near Wanchese. Croatan Sound linked Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, once a heavily traveled course for goods being shipped to major North Carolina ports by water. Like other bodies of water affected by winds and tides, shoaling occurred regularly in these shallow bodies of water, which caused hazards for all who travelled there. These smaller but significant lights helped warn captains to beware lurking dangers in shoals that could strand a boat, especially during and after a storm.
There were three lighthouses named Roanoke Marshes. The first was built in 1831, the second in 1858, and the third one that was built in 1877 became the model on which the Town of Manteo based its exterior reproduction. This last Roanoke Marshes Light was one of a dozen “screwpile” lights in North Carolina with specially designed pilings screwed deep into the soft mud of the sounds for stability.
In 1939, all American lighthouses were taken over by the U.S. Coast Guard after the government dismantled the U.S. Lighthouse Service. The 1877 light served under the supervision and maintenance of the coast guard until 1955 when it was decommissioned. Afterward, the lighthouse was sold to an individual who tried to relocate it by floating the structure on a barge. Unfortunately, the lighthouse fell overboard in rough waters; it was destroyed beyond repair and lost to history.
The one and one-half-story, cottage-style lighthouse is representative of most small lighthouses that dotted North Carolina’s rivers and sounds. It took the Town of Manteo several years of dogged work to get the permits, money, and organization to build its replica. It crowns the historic waterfront and is a pleasant surprise to visitors who explore the otherwise Elizabethan town. Once again, the area’s maritime legacy shines.
The Roanoke Marshes Light was officially dedicated in a special ceremony on September 25, 2004. A fourth-order Fresnel lens, on loan from the coast guard, shines each night across the waterfront. Owned and operated by the town of Manteo, the lighthouse is located across the street from the town-owned Roanoke Island Maritime Museum, which sponsors historical and educational activities. The lighthouse is open free of charge daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. year-round.
In 2015, the creation of the Albemarle Riverlight Trail was completed. The first in the nation, the Riverlight Trail features the original 1887 Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton, the 1866 Roanoke River Lighthouse replica in Plymouth, Laurel Point Lighthouse Display in Columbia, and the 1877 Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse replica in Manteo. The route offers an opportunity to experience an era when water travel propelled the nation by providing a network of transportation. You may also call the Edenton Historical Association for information at 252-482-7800 or 800-775-0111.
From US 158 South in Nags Head, take US 64 West to the historic Town of Manteo. Follow signs to the waterfront where the lighthouse is located on the eastern end of town. Parking is limited in that immediate area; however, parking anywhere in town will be only a short walk to the lighthouse. This exterior reconstruction is a reminder of the past, bringing a likeness of the 1877 lighthouse to life.