Dave Hallac, Cape Hatteras National Seashore superintendent, discusses preservation of the Ocracoke Light Station in the Berkley Barn. John Simpson is at left. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

The Ocracoke Light Station is the heartbeat of the island and should be preserved.

So said Mickey Hoggard via her neighbor Trudy Austin. Hoggard has lived most of her life in the house, built in the mid-1950s, adjacent to the lighthouse entrance.

Austin related Hoggard’s sentiment at a meeting held Thursday by David Hallac, Cape Hatteras National Seashore superintendent, to seek the community’s input about preserving the lighthouse complex.

“Hurricane Dorian forever changed a lot of things, but the lighthouse is the heartbeat of the community,” was Hoggard’s comment via Austin. “It’s the one constant thing we have.”

Austin added that during the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 — one of the most powerful storms to ever strike the eastern United States and which is frequently compared with Hurricane Dorian as to its intensity and damage to Ocracoke Island—the majority of islanders fled to the lighthouse for safety.

The lighthouse, built in 1823, and its environs, including the “double keepers” house, outbuildings and even the live oaks, are owned by the National Park Service, which calls it the Ocracoke Light Station.

The “double keepers” house, a duplex that can house two families, has not been repaired since Dorian surge waters flooded it on Sept. 6, 2019.

A virtual meeting will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. tonight (Monday, May 10).

  • Online Meeting Link (best option for viewing online presentation from computer or smartphone)
  • Audio only: 202-640-1187, 38403551# (best option for people with poor or no internet coverage)

Audio only attendees will not be able to view the presentation, therefore, all attendees are encouraged to use a computer or smartphone to connect via online meeting link.

The comment period for the project is open until May 28 online here.

Noting that the lighthouse was built in 1823, Hallac outlined the following preservation ideas:

Option 1 – Repair as is: Repair storm damage and preserve site as is.
Option 2 – Repair and Elevate: Repair storm damage, replace existing shotcrete at lighthouse with historic parge coat, and elevate all structures, except the lighthouse.
Option 3 – Rehabilitate to 1823 Site: Remove the Keeper’s Quarters 1929 Addition and restore/rehabilitate the Keeper’s Quarters using as many original features (e.g., bricks) from the house as possible; restore/rehabilitate the Light Station structures and site to the 1823-1854 Period of Interpretation; and elevate all structures, except the lighthouse. Restoration/rehabilitation to the 1823-1854 Period of Interpretation would include:
• Replacing existing shotcrete at lighthouse with historic parge coat and exposing original stone foundation at
lighthouse.
• Replacing existing metal spiral stair case with historically accurate wood staircase.
• Remove other structures except for the 1823 privy.
Option 4 – Relocate: Relocate the lighthouse and the Keeper’s Quarters to a higher elevation, more storm- and flood- resistant location on Ocracoke Island.

The Ocracoke lighthouse and ‘double keepers’ quarters. Photo: C. Leinbach

“The primary challenge is sea level rise,” Hallac told the dozen islanders and dozen Seashore staff in the Berkley Barn where the meeting was held.

The lighthouse is two feet above sea level now and the entire property is considered a wetlands, he said.

John Simpson, whose grandfather, Joseph Merritt Burrus, was the second to last light keeper and the last one to serve under the U.S. Lighthouse Service, advocated for repairing the grounds and leaving them as they are now.

Elizabeth Dyer suggested making an 1823-style building “floodable,” as island homes were built 100 years ago, but elevating it only a few feet to both preserve the past and make the building resilient to encroaching waters.

Hallac noted that the white coating on the lighthouse itself needs to come off because it does not let the bricks underneath breathe. That leads to compromised mortar leading to further deterioration.

He said a decision on how to proceed would be at least a year down the road, preceded by an environmental assessment and another public meeting for the community.

“Whatever we do, it will be very expensive,” he said. “It’s always expensive to preserve historic structures.”

Simpson added that 2023 will be the 200th anniversary of the lighthouse. Hallac said he would confer with Simpson and the community about how to celebrate that.

Meeting attendees in the Berkley Barn. Photo: C. Leinbach

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the NPS link. My comment that I submitted is as follows:

    “An essential part of the lighthouse site’s character is the relationship of the buildings to the ground, and this is in conflict with the pragmatic need to raise the buildings so that expensive repairs are not ruined with the next storm. A design which addresses both the pragmatic and the aesthetic factors would be better positioned to survive the approval and implementation process.

    I propose that the house be elevated 24 to 36” while simultaneously raising the grade around it in a wide, gentle mound, accented with native plants in their characteristic groups, In addition to the increased floor elevation, incorporating traditional tactics of a “floodable” structure would limit the damage from the inevitable next bigger storm.

    If the overall character of the site and structures remains similar after the repairs, it would seem that the details as to which era to restore to and which features to incorporate would be of lesser importance and generate less controversy.”

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