Clio Logo
Located just past Nags Head, North Carolina, Bodie Island Lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction for those visiting the Outer Banks. While the Lighthouse is open for tours and walk-throughs, unfortunately, many are unaware that the current lighthouse is not the original. While the first lighthouse was abandoned due to structural issues beyond repair, the second lighthouse was completely obliterated by the Confederate Soldiers during the Civil War. The current lighthouse, which is the location of this site, is the third lighthouse, and the tallest out of all three. With each reconstruction of the lighthouse, it was built taller and farther inland than the previous.

  • A comparison of the three lighthouses shows the difference in size between each.
  • Courtesy of Library of Congress, this picture shows the third and final Bodie Lighthouse in 1893.
  • Today, the Bodie Island Lighthouse is open for tours daily. Visitors can climb the 214 steps to the very top, which looks out over the coastal shore of North Carolina.
At the site of this marker stands a 156-foot-tall lighthouse. Bodie Island Lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction for those visiting the Outer Banks. With 214 steps to the top, visitors can climb the entire height of the lighthouse during hours of operation. Although this lighthouse is a popular stop for those in the Outer Banks, many do not know that the current Bodie Island Lighthouse is not the original, but in fact, the third. 

The first Bodie Lighthouse was built in 1847. Ten years earlier, in 1837, Lieutenant Napolean L. Coste had begun a search for the best possible spot to place a lighthouse in North Carolina. While virtually all the shores along the Outer Banks were severely dangerous for ships, he chose the shore along Pea Island as the prime spot because, as he quoted, "more vessels are lost there than on any other part of our coast".1 Therefore, in 1847, a 54 foot lighthouse was constructed. Within two years of being built, the lighthouse began to severely lean. The cause was determined to be an unsupported brick foundation at the bottom of the lighthouse. Due to such a major structure deficiency, repairs were nearly impossible, and the costs of such repairs would cost more than the lighthouse was worth. It was decided that the most efficient method was to completely abandon the lighthouse altogether. 

Nine years later, in 1858, it was determined that a second lighthouse was to be built. This time, the lighthouse was constructed to be 80 foot tall, and would stand roughly nearby the abandoned site of the original Bodie Lighthouse. With a solid foundation and a new site, the second lighthouse was built in that same year, but, like its former, the second lighthouse met its end only two years later. In 1860, during battle in the Civil War, the Confederate Army completely destroyed the relatively-new lighthouse. 

Surprisingly, after two failed attempts, construction began on a third lighthouse in 1871. The site of the third lighthouse was farther north and more inland than its predecessors. At 156 feet tall, it towered over the previous lighthouses. By 1872, the lighthouse began operation. With this third lighthouse, a keepers' quarters was also built, but in 1932, the lighthouse was upgraded to become automated, so a keeper was no longer needed. Bodie Lighthouse would continue to shine until 1953, when National Park Services took over care of the lighthouse. Since then, tours of the inside of the lighthouse continue to run, and tourists visiting the Outer Banks consider Bodie Island Lighthouse a must-see attraction. 

1. "Bodie Island Lighthouse". Bodie Island Lighthouse. 2016. Accessed October 15, 2017.

2. The Coastal Cottage Administration. "History of the Bodie Island Lighthouse". The Coastal Cottage Company. February 2, 2017. Accessed October 15, 

3. U.S. Department of the Interior. "The Bodie Island Lighthouse (U.S. National Park Service)". National Parks Service. Accessed October 15, 2017.