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Oak Island Range, NC  Lighthouse destroyed.   

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Oak Island Range Lighthouse

1849 – SIR: In continuation of the report which I had the honor to submit to the honorable Committee on Commerce of the Senate, under date of the 15th December, 1848, in relation to the execution of the law of the 14th August, 1848, entitled "An act making appropriations for lighthouses, light-boats, buoys, &c, and providing for the erection and establishment of the same," and which report was printed by order of the Senate at the special session in March, 1849, and numbered one, I now proceed to detail what has been done under the several appropriations, beginning with:

For two light-houses on Oak island, at the entrance of Cape Fear river, $9,000. The land at this place belonging to the United States, these beacons were built without delay, and are now in operation, for the sum of $8,984 89.

1850 – Oak Island beacon light-houses - 20 lamps; Jacob Brickman, keeper; supplied May 28, 1850.
These two light-houses are built of brick and now want painting, as quite a large quantity of the mortar, especially on the north side of the tower, has been washed out by the rains. It was finished and lighted up with ten lamps in each light-house on the 10th September, 1849. Brass lamps, twenty-one-inch reflectors, ten oil butts, two lantern canisters, two oil carriers, and four spare lamps, all appear well made. Dwelling-house is one story high, with two rooms and a kitchen, and two lodging rooms above – a comfortable house for the keeper.
Was supplied by the government with 690 gallons of oil. Found on hand 285 405 gallons consumed in 260 days is equal to 568 gallons per year, or 28 8/10 gallons per lamp.
Delivered 266 gallons spring oil, 135 gallons winter oil, on hand 285 gallons, for a total of 686
50 yards cloth; 1 buff skin; 2 pair scissors; 2 boxes soap; 1 flat file. 4 spare lamps, in good order; common burners; 21-inch reflectors.

1851 – OAK ISLAND—TWO BEACON LIGHTS; CAPE FEAR RIVER, N. C. September 2—11 a. m. John G. Brickman, keeper; took charge September 3, 1849; worked on Fort Caswell previous to taking charge.

These two lights are placed about 130 yards apart, and serve as leading marks to cross the Oak Island bar; too close together. Keeper leaves the lights to go to Wilmington for his pay.

Towers were built in 1849, of brick; look very well; lime-mortar; do not leak; one 20 feet and the other 30 feet in height. Lanterns of heavy iron. Astragals vertical and very broad. Glass of lantern 28 x 12 inches. Ten reflectors, 11-inch spherical in each tower; very badly placed on the frame; three of one and four of the lamps of the other entirely useless, in consequence of their being placed around the entire circle, without regard to the object of the lights. The lights of three of the lamps in the tower nearest the sea were thrown upon the iron door of the lantern and the woods to the westward. Lanterns very small; no room to pass around the apparatus. Inspected once in two years by collector at Wilmington. Supplied with spare glass, but no putty. Lantern and dome inside black with soot, and has never been painted white. Both lanterns dirty; reflectors scratched and inferior in construction; lamps pretty good; burners as usual; four spare lamps and burners. No trimming-scissors. No journal kept; cannot read or write; does not know how much oil is consumed each night. Gets a friend at the fort to make quarterly returns for him. Oil is always good.

Received June 9, 1851 - 427 gallons summer oil.
134 " winter oil.
100 " on hand.
Total - 667 gallons.

Lights up at sunset, puts out at sunrise; trims at midnight in summer; does not understand lighting or trimming lamps. Lights are decidedly bad; burners and lamps apparently are never cleaned out; glass of lantern not kept clean; no curtains; towers want whitewashing; wood-work not neat. Dwelling-house in good order; pretty clean; water from a cistern; in good order. Gave instructions to him about keeping his lights; lights improved during stay in that quarter; everything very common; had no instructions when he took charge.

If these lights had been put on wooden piles, they would have cost less, and, at the same time, would have answered a better purpose. Now, they are threatened by the sand.

1855 – Keeper John Price, jr. $400, John C. Spencer $300

1866 – A keeper's dwelling, with lantern on top, has been erected at Oak island, mouth of Cape Fear river; also a frame skeleton tower placed on a tramway in front of the keeper's dwelling to serve as a range in crossing the bar, western entrance to Cape Fear river.

1867 – Federal Point; Oak island.—The buildings at these stations were erected in 1866, and are in good condition.

1868 – Oak island.—Range lights for crossing the bar western entrance to Cape Fear river in good condition, and it is thought that only incidental repairs will be required during next year.

1869 – Oak Island beacons, Cape Fear, N. C.—Some small repairs have been made at this station; it is in good condition, but will need painting next year.

1872 – Oak Island beacons, at the south entrance to River Cape Fear, North Carolina.—These beacons mark the range over the bar at the Oak Island entrance to river Cape Fear. They are, however, badly located, being so near each other that considerable deviation from the true course is necessary to make them appear to separate. The front beacon is an open-frame frustum of a square pyramid resting on a rail tramway, which allows of its being moved to the right or left, to suit the changes in the channel. The rear light is placed on a wooden tower, immediately over the center of the keeper's dwelling. The shore-line at this place, as at many others on the southern coast, is not permanent, being washed away by the abrasive action of the sea. The latter has gradually encroached upon the land, till at present the high-water mark is only a few feet from the front beacon, which renders it in imminent danger of being destroyed in any southeasterly gale. The two beacons being already so close together as to have their usefulness seriously impaired, the front beacon cannot be moved back any farther. To move both would be an expensive undertaking at this place, and would necessitate the discontinuance, for a time, of the lights; besides, there is no appropriation available. It would be more satisfactory, and doubtless cheaper in the end, to build two new frame beacons detached from the keeper's dwelling. The present ones could then remain as they now are until the new ones are established. By this means the change would cause no inconvenience to commerce, and such locations and relative elevation could be given them as would make them much more useful than they now are.
It is very important that this range be well maintained, as the channel which it marks is the most reliable, permanent, and the deepest of the several entrances to River Cape Fear. An appropriation of $4,000 is therefore asked to re-establish the range.

1873 – Oak Island Beacons, at the main entrance to Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—The recommendation of last year in regard to an appropriation of $4,000 for the establishment of these beacons in order to secure a better range is renewed.

1874 -Oak Island beacons, at the main entrance to Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—An appropriation of $4,000 was made at the last session of Congress for building two new frame beacons to take the place of the present ones, and to secure better range. The work will be commenced at an early day.

1875 – Oak Island Range beacons, entrance to Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—An appropriation of $4,000 was made by the act approved June 23, 1874, for building two new frame beacons to take the place of the present ones, and to secure a better range. A survey of the locality shows that the range can be moved to the eastward and give better water through the western or Oak Island channel; also that the rear light can be located in a position that will, with another light placed on Battery Island, serve the purpose of a range through the channel now being dredged on the westerly side of Cape Fear River, between Horseshoe Shoals and Marsh Island. The Bald Head channel has now 11 ˝ feet of water at ordinarily low tide, with a prospect of that depth being maintained, and even increased by further dredging operations, while Oak Island Channel is reported as shoaling. Steamers now use the latter but little, but it is considered important to maintain the Oak Island range for the present, as sailing-vessels use the channel to find shelter between the bar and the rip off Fort Caswell. The board has ordered the work to be suspended until it is determined whether the changes in the channels now taking place are of a permanent nature.

1876 – Oak Island Range Beacons, entrance to Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—At the date of the last report the work of building two new frame beacons to take the place of the present ones, and to secure a better range through the western or Oak Island Channel, for which an appropriation of $4,000 had been made by Congress, was suspended by order of the board until it could be determined whether the changes in the channels then taking place were of a permanent character. The Bald Head channel has improved in depth, and is now generally used by vessels. Owing, however, to the frequent changes in this channel, any project for lighting it would be premature. The Oak Island beacons must therefore be retained as a guide for vessels at night, and in view of the indefinite period that may elapse before any other channel could be lighted, and as the present beacons require extensive repairs which have already been postponed until they have become a matter of necessity, it is proposed to build the beacons provided for. It is believed they may be so constructed of iron that they can be readily removed to another site should a change become necessary. The appropriation of $4,000 is still available and it is believed will be sufficient to complete the work.

1877 – Oak Island range-beacons, entrance to Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—The work of rebuilding the range-beacons for the Oak Island Channel, for which an appropriation of $4,000 was made, act approved June 23, 1874, has been suspended until the permanency of the changes in adjoining channels can be determined.

1878 – Oak Island Range Beacons, entrance to Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—The rebuilding of the range-beacons for Oak Island Channel, for which an appropriation of $4,000 was made by act approved June 23, 1874, had been suspended until the permanency of the changes in adjoining channels could be determined. But as the sea still continues to encroach on the site of the front light, which cannot be removed farther from the shore-line, it will be necessary to carry out the original plan of rebuilding the front beacon on another site. The matter is now under consideration of the board.

1879 – Oak Island Range-beacons, entrance to Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—These beacons have been rebuilt from the appropriation of $4,000, made by Congress for that purpose, on a range-line a little west of the former one. The front beacon is a skeleton frame structure, with wooden lantern set upon a wooden tramway 60 feet long. The light is 22 feet above high water. The rear beacon is a skeleton frame with inclosed watch-room, the lantern from the old light being used for the new beacon. The foundation is brickwork upon a timber grillage, below the level of standing water. The focal plane is 30 feet above high-water mark, and the beacons are 900 feet apart. The range is effective for vessels crossing the bar; but its efficiency would be increased by raising the rear beacon 10 feet higher, that it may be seen at a greater distance at sea. This it is proposed to do from the current appropriation for repairs.

1881 – Oak Island, to the southward of main Channel, mouth of Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—This station was in bad repair, the keeper's dwelling being scarcely habitable in winter. The rear light has always been too low, making the visual angle subtended by an observer at the bar so small that the two lights blended and appeared as one. The work of correcting this defect and making suitable repairs to the keeper's house is now in progress and will soon be completed. The rear light will be raised 10 feet, by building under it a brick foundation of this height and setting the old structure on it. The efficiency of the light will be increased by this change.

1882 – Oak Island Range-beacons on Oak Island, southward of main channel entrance to Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—The rear light, which was too low, was raised by building under it a brick base, thus elevating the focal plane of the light about 10 feet. A boat-house and plank walk to the boat-landing were built and the buildings at both stations were thoroughly repaired.

1885 – Oak Island range beacons, mouth of Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—This range was abandoned as a guide through the Western Bar channel, and the front beacon was moved so as to make the present range one of the system which leads through the main entrance to Cape Fear River. When this change was made, a new tramway was built for the front beacon.

1885 – Oak Island Range, North Carolina.—The front light was moved 450 feet to the eastward March 1, 1885.

1886 – Oak Island Range Lights.—Mouth of the Cape Fear River, North Carolina. The front tower is 20 feet high and the rear tower is 40 feet high. The keeper reports that on August 31, at 9.36 p. m., they had a bad earthquake shock which lasted about thirty seconds. The house rocked badly. It stopped the clock and moved the lower steps of the main light. He thinks it came from the northwest.

1888 – Oak Island, mouth of Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—A new elevated plank walk, 380 feet long, was built to connect the keeper's dwelling with the rear beacon, and a tramway 40 feet long was built for the front beacon, the position of which was at the same time changed to the westward.

1892 – Oak Island Range, mouth of Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—A new boathouse was built 12 by 18 feet in plan. A fireproof brick oil house was built. It is 9 feet by 11 feet in the clear, with ventilators and drain pipe, and shelves sufficient to receive four hundred and fifty 5-gallon cans. Various repairs were made.

1893 – Oak Island, mouth of Cape Fear River, North Carolina.— Funck-Heap lamps were substituted for Hains lamps. A topographical survey of the site was made.

1894 – Oak Island, mouth of Cape Fear River, North Carolina.— Changes in the channel at the entrance to the Cape Fear River have resulted in rendering these lights useless as a guide to vessels. It has accordingly been ordered that the station be discontinued on July 31, 1894. The illuminating apparatus and all other useful material will be taken down and stored to be utilized elsewhere.

1895 — Oak Island, mouth of Cape Fear River, North Carolina.—During the year this station was discontinued, changes in the channel at the entrance to the Cape Fear River, North Carolina, having rendered its lights useless as guides. The illuminating apparatus and other valuable material were taken to Charleston and stored for future use.


  • Head: Jacob Brinkman (1849 – 1853), John Price (1853 – 1858), John C. Spencer (1858 – 1866), Daniel Dougherty (1866 – 1867), John Melarky (1867 – 1880), John H. Allen (1880 – 1881), Joseph A. Bell (1881 – 1885), George D. Walker (1885 – 1894).
  • Assistant: John C. Spencer (1855 – 1858), Ann Dougherty (1867), Mariah Melarky (1867 – at least 1869), Mariah Melarky (1879 – 1881).

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