Boating, Fishing, Paddling, Maps, History, New places to go & things
 to do. It's

...All about
the Roanoke

See Roanoke-related articles in these magazines:
Wildlife in North Carolina-
March 2003
Cypress Grill:
The Last Cook-up Shack

by T. Edward Nickens

Backpacker Magazine
The Nature Conservancy Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine

National Geographic Adventure Magazine



Plymouth, NC
Roanoke River Lighthouse 
Now a Beacon to Visitors

Summer hours:  11-3 Tuesday-Saturday and 1-4 on Sunday. 
Call 252-217-2204 for more information

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,

The 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.

Above: 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.

Finally, 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 often to read more about the Lighthouse project, the Maritime Museum and the Railroad Wetlands Project.  

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