Roanoke River Lighthouse
Now a Beacon to Visitors
Summer hours: 11-3 Tuesday-Saturday and 1-4 on
252-217-2204 for more
Plymouth's replica of the Roanoke River lighthouse is now open for
tours! Get your tour tickets from the Maritime Museum across the
street from the lighthouse. If you would like to arrange a group tour or
you need more information, please call the number above or 252-793-1377
(Port of Plymouth Museum.)
While you're there, be sure and note the
building's remarkable detail. Yet to come: a spectacular wetlands landscape,
walkway and seating area in front of the lighthouse,
lighthouse, built from the original plans for the 1866 Light Station, which
this building replicates, has a fascinating history. The first Light
Station was built in 1866---and burned the same year. It was replaced
shortly after. This is the building that is replicated in Plymouth. It
was destroyed by ice in 1886 and was replaced by a another Light Station
that, once de-commissioned, was purchased and moved to Edenton, where it
was modified and sits today.
Future exhibits in the
Maritime Museum, located just across the
street, will show how important the Roanoke
River Light Service was to transportation and will tell the story of the
families who kept the light. Because these lighthouses were
isolated by the surrounding water, lighthouse keepers were
remarkably self-sufficient, some even raising livestock on the lower
level of the structure.
River Light History
The history of the
river lights began in the early 1800s when light stations were placed at
strategic points like the mouths of rivers to aid in navigation. There
were 8 in the Albemarle Sound, according to Harry Thompson, curator of
the Port o' Plymouth Museum in Plymouth. In 1835 Congress
funded the construction of a light vessel for the mouth of the Roanoke
River. A three-masted sailing ship was
converted into a light station and put into place. Whale-oil lights
covered with red, green & blue lenses helped sailors find safe
entrance to the river.
Ready for visitors!
At right: Looking downriver from the deck of the lighthouse.
The light vessel came into the hands of the
Confederacy during the Civil War and was retaken by Union forces when
they captured the town of Plymouth.
Historians think the station may have been taken up-river and
scuttled with other vessels to block the passage of the ironclad Ram Albemarle.
A screwpile lighthouse was built to replace the
first light vessel around 1886. A winter storm froze the Albemarle Sound
and the thawing ice cut two of the
pilings, causing the station to fall into the water. This station was
replaced in 1887 and the remained until it was decommissioned in the 1950s.
At that time the river light stations were sold and
unfortunately, most were destroyed during the tricky process of moving
them. The Roanoke station was purchased by the owner of a ship salvage
operation who successfully moved it to Edenton to become his home. It is still there today.
Washington County's Waterways Commission has
been successful in making this dream a reality. A tour of downtown Plymouth
now includes the 1866 Light Station reproduction, the Maritime Museum, and a Railroad Wetlands
Project, as well. The three projects span the length of Water
Street and provide points of interests to tourists from one end of town
to the other.
Lighthouse enthusiasts rival Civil War
enthusiasts in their passion,” says Harry Thompson, chairman of the Lighthouse Project. “With this project we can become the first stop on a tour
of North Carolina lighthouses with the only one of this type.”
Check roanokeriver.com often to read more about the
Lighthouse project, the Maritime Museum and the Railroad Wetlands