Cape Hatteras Lighthouse gets $19M facelift

By on February 14, 2024

Groundbreaking ceremony for the Hatteras Lighthouse renovation project. (LtoR) Edrie Ortega NPS Construction Manager Representative; Robin Snyder, deputy superintendent, Cape Hatteras National Seashore; Ed Milch, General Superintendent of the Stone & Lime Hatteras Lighthouse restoration project; Lindsey Gravel, Site Quality Control, Stone & Lime; Dave Hallac, Outer Banks Group Superintendent. (Credit Kip Tabb/OBV)

Strengthening the structure, enhancing the visitor experience

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is about to get its most extensive renovation since its beacon first warned mariners of Diamond Shoals on Dec. 16, 1870. Now approaching its 155th anniversary, the Lighthouse is showing its age in spite of recent efforts to maintain and restore it.

The $19.2 million effort will take about a year and a half to complete, and the end result will be a Lighthouse that is as strong, if not stronger and more resilient than the original. The public will not be able to climb the tower during construction.

“The Lighthouse will be in better shape than it has been since it was built in 1870,” Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Dave Hallac said. “It will be more resilient perhaps than even when it was initially built because of some of the building materials that we are using will be much more resilient to the salt air and to the strong winds in the environment.”

And, Hallac added, The visitor experience will also be greatly improved as “the visitors will have the opportunity to really understand not only the history of the Lighthouse, but also see its beauty and its splendor.”

The work is being done by Stone & Lime Masonry Restoration Services headquartered in North Brookfield, Massachusetts. And although work has already begun on the landscaping, the most visible sign of construction will be when the scaffolding is delivered, explained Chris Dabek, Vice President of Stone & Lime.

Ed Milch, General Superintendent of the Stone & Lime Hatteras Lighthouse restoration project holds a rendering of what the scaffolding will look like when it is fully installed. (Credit Kip Tabb/OBV)

That’s “approximately 25 tractor trailers. So it’s going be nonstop trucks for the next eight weeks…That process will take approximately three months,” he said.

The scaffolding will cover the entire exterior of the Lighthouse and is designed to handle anything Mother Nature may throw at it. The interior will also be undergoing extensive renovation. Because of that, there should be relatively few missed days of work. “Most of the interior work is going to be rainy day work. If it’s too windy or too rainy,” Dabek said.

One of the most ambitious features of the project is the restoration of the first order Fresnel Lens that once rotated at regular intervals at the top of the tower. Invented in 1822 by Frenchman Augustin Fresnel, the lens refracts light vertically and horizontally creating a far more intense and more visible light that had been available before.

The new lens, which will be made of acrylic and not glass, is being fabricated by Artworks Florida. When installed, the new lens will be a close, although not exact replica of the original beam. The Coast Guard, which maintains the light, has very specific color requirements for their lights.

“It won’t be exactly the same as an oil lamp,” Hallac said, adding that the “options are limited because the light [color] must be Coast Guard approved, and there are only a limited number of those.”

As extensive as the work on the Lighthouse will be, the grounds and visitor experience are also significant parts of the project. As a way to make that experience more meaningful, plans call for an added emphasis on telling the story of the Lighthouse keepers and their families.

“With the new experiences we’re starting with the…Lighthouse keepers that took care of this place…that were just as important as the Lighthouse,” Hallac said.

The double keeper’s quarters, which now houses the site’s Museum of the Sea, was recently renovated in a separate project.

One of the most apparent differences will be the walkways that bring visitors to the buildings historically associated with the Lighthouse—the Lighthouse, double keeper’s building and principal Lighthouse keeper residence. The walkways have traditionally been a four-foot-wide path. As Hallac explained, that has proven inadequate for the more than 100,000 visitors that come to the Lighthouse every year. He pointed to a patch of bare ground between the living quarters and the Lighthouse.

“We have not been able to grow grass here for many years…and realized that this site is visited by…thousands of people,” he said. “They love the Lighthouse, and they want to visit it, and the layout here simply has been unable to accommodate that level of visitation.”

The new paths will be seven feet wide and able to accommodate far more people, and Hallac added, “also guide visitors to see other views and vistas of the landscape.”

There will be other historic touches as well. The fences around the keepers’ homes will have a replica white picket fence and the Lighthouse will have its own fence that is more faithful to its history.

“It will look more like a cast iron fence with a bit of a spear point. That is a fence that I believe was very similar to what was around the Lighthouse for a period of time,” he said.

The construction will cause disruptions and there may even be times when the grounds, in addition to the Lighthouse, will have to be closed for safety reasons.

“We’re going to work …to always retain some level of access…to some view of the area although it will be under construction for a long period of time,” Hallac explained. “Some access to the Museum of the Sea will be limited. We will be working with Stone and Lime to try to provide some consistency and clear communication about how you can access the site and what to expect.”



  • Bob

    “He pointed to a patch of bare ground between the living quarters and the Lighthouse.”

    “We have not been able to grow grass here for many years…and realized that this site is visited by…thousands of people,”

    I’m no genius or export on these sorts of things, but I’m pretty confident the reason they can’t grow grass there is that the concrete paths they built after the move do not reflect the paths people tend to take as they move around the site. If you’re going between the visitor’s center and the keepers quarters, you either walk across the sand (where they grass won’t grow because everyone is walking on it) or go out of your way a fair bit to stay on the concrete.

    Thursday, Feb 15 @ 9:45 am
  • Bob Woodard

    This is exciting to see the well needed restorations of the Lighthouse. As has been stated, it will enhance the visitor experience for many years. ” Well done” Dave Hallac and staff to find the funds to make this happen. Very nice indeed!

    Thursday, Feb 15 @ 1:09 pm