A lighthouse was needed on the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina due to shallow water, different currents coming together, and the fast-developing storms in that area. It was approved in 1804 to have a lighthouse build here. It was not until 1812 that the lighthouse was built, and it cost $20,678.54.
The lighthouse was 107 feet tall and was painted with red and white stripes. It was in the shape of an octagon, and it had a wood exterior, but the interior was brick. Unfortunately, the tower was not tall enough and did not have a strong enough light to warn ships in enough time of their danger. Work was done to the lighthouse in 1820 and by 1851 the lighthouse along with the keeper’s house was in need of work again. So, in 1857 money was assigned to build a new lighthouse, but this time it would be taller and better.
This new lighthouse was finished on November 1, 1859, and in 1860 the original lighthouse was changed into the lighthouse keeper’s home. In 1873 a new home was constructed for the keeper and it was probably sometime around then, that the original lighthouse was dismantled.
The new tower was 163 feet tall and its light could shine about 15 miles. It had a first order Fresnel lens when it was first built, but it soon got damaged. The lens was replaced with a third order Fresnel lens in 1863. After the Civil War was over the original Fresnel lens was repaired and in 1867 was put back in the lighthouse.
In 1933 generators where used to power electric lights in the tower. Then in 1950 the lighthouse was automated so there was no longer a lighthouse keeper. The United States Coast Guard now took care of the needs of the tower. In 1975, two aero-beacons replaced the Fresnel lens.
The color pattern of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse is a white and black diagonal line of diamonds. However, it only became this design in 1873, before this it was just red brick. Over time the light pattern changed as well. When it was first built the light was just a constant light with no flash. It was in 1914 that the light became a “flashing” light. The flashing pattern was, three 9 second flashes, then one 9 second flash. This happened two times every minute and a half. When electric lamps became part of the lighthouse in 1933 the pattern changed again. This time it the light was on for 2 seconds, off for 2 seconds, on for 2 seconds, and off for 9 seconds. If you look at the lighthouse today you will see that the light now flashes once every 15 seconds.
On July 14, 2003 the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, along with its property, was given to the National Park Service. This was done so that people can come and tour the lighthouse today.