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The Currituck Beach Lighthouse, located in the heart of Corolla, borders the historic Whalehead in Historic Corolla and still functions as a guide for passing mariners. At 162' feet tall, the lighthouse's First Order Fresnel light, (the largest size available for American lighthouses), can be seen for 18 nautical miles as the light rotates in 20 second increments.
This lighthouse stands out for its distinctive red exterior. This design was intentional, to set the Currituck Lighthouse apart from its Outer Banks neighbors. After completion, the lighthouse was left unpainted, allowing visitors to marvel at the sheer number of bricks involved in its construction.
History of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse
For centuries, hundreds of ships were lost in the treacherous waters off of the Outer Banks. In the Northern Outer Banks, ships travelling close to shore to avoid the swift and tumultuous Gulf Stream could easily get shipwrecked against the shoreline, as the miles of Currituck's barrier island was relatively uninhabited, with nothing but dark coastline to confuse and disorient the passing sailors.
In response, construction began on the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in 1872, and three years later on December 1, 1875, the lighthouse first glowed as a beacon to passing ships. Adjacent to the lighthouse, a Victorian style lighthouse keepers' home was built in 1876, providing housing for the principal keeper's family and two assistants' families. The lighthouse was electrified in 1933, and the keeper's positions were discontinued in 1937. Over the next four decades, the lighthouse keepers' home began to fall into disrepair.
In 1980, the non-profit organization Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc., as well as the state of North Carolina, took notice to the deteriorating home, and began a complete restoration of the original keepers' home and the overall Currituck Beach Lighthouse grounds.
With such intricate work involved, the restoration of the home itself continues even today, but other buildings, including a small 1920 white dwelling intended for a third lighthouse keeper, are completely remodeled and serve as gift shops, storage areas, and information centers.
What to know before you visit the Currituck Beach Lighthouse
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse grounds are open for exploration all year long (with occasional short interruptions). Visitors can stop by at any time of the year to explore and get an up-close view of the famous brick lighthouse and outlaying buildings. The grounds close occasionally for staff vacations and repair work.
Seasonally, the lighthouse itself is open to visitors, who can climb the 220 steps to the top for unparalleled views of the Whalehead in Historic Corolla, the Currituck Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean. If you make the climb, be sure and pause at both the base of the lighthouse and the first two landings for museum quality exhibits showcasing the history of the lighthouse, the lighthouse keepers, and the giant Fresnel Lens, still in operation.
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is open daily for climbing from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from Easter until the day before Thanksgiving. Tickets are inexpensive for adults and children under 7 can climb for free as long as they are accompanied by an adult. In addition, a Museum Gift Shop is also open seasonally, and features Outer Banks books, lighthouse memorabilia, clothing, and other treasures.
The lighthouse and lighthouse grounds can also be booked for weddings, school field trips, and other special events. Visit the lighthouse's website for additional information on special occasions and large groups.