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Lighthouse History

Built: 1887

Type: 2 Story Cottage Screwpile

Status: Non-Active

Location: East side of the channel in Batchelor's Bay off the Albemarle Sound - Now located Downtown Plymouth, NC.

Deactivated: 1941

Lens: Fourth Order Fresnel


Notes: Congress appropriated funds in 1831 for a lightship to be placed near the mouth of the Roanoke River in Albemarle Sound to guide vessels to the river and the port of Plymouth upstream. A wooden-hulled, three-masted sailing ship was converted into the lightship, which was named "MM". Whale oil lights shining through red, blue, and green lenses served as a beacon for mariners.
When Union forces invaded eastern North Carolina in 1862, Confederates took control of the lightship and sailed it upstream to Plymouth. During the war, the ship was sank in the Roanoke River.
The work on the Roanoke River Lighthouse commenced near the mouth of the river to replace the lightship. The design of the lighthouse was very similar to others used in North Carolina's Pamlico, Albermarle, and Croatan Sounds: a square structure with a pitched roof surmounted by a lantern room that housed a Fresnel lens. The lighthouse was destroyed by fire in March of 1885 but was rebuilt and put back into service later that year. In winter, ice floes were a constant plague for screwpile lighthouses, like the one at Roanoke River. In 1886, ice severed two of the Roanoke River Lighthouse's spindly support legs causing the structure to collapse into the sound. A replacement lighthouse was activated in 1887 and served until the station was discontinued in 1941.
The second Roanoke River Lighthouse was a two-story wooden structure with a square tower protruding from one corner of the structure's pitched roof. This lighthouse was originally intended for Currituck Sound, but was diverted to Roanoke River to replace the lighthouse lost there. The new lighthouse had two rooms on each floor, and families lived at the offshore station for several decades before keepers started commuting to the lighthouse from Plymouth. A fourth-order Fresnel lens was used in the lantern room.
After the lighthouse was discontinued, it played host to "only Sea Scout troop meetings and clandestine card games." In 1955, waterman Elijah Tate purchased the Roanoke River Lighthouse, along with two other Albermale Sound lighthouses, from the Coast Guard for $10 each.  Tragically, Tate dropped two of the three lighthouses into the sound while trying to relocate them. Before testing his luck with the third lighthouse, Tate sold it to his friend Emmett Wiggins, who often passed the lighthouse during his work as a tugboat operator. Wiggins gave the following account of moving the lighthouse. "I had an old Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) that I used as a barge, so I went out to the light and knocked away all of the pilings except those at the diagonal corners. Then I sank the LCI down far enough to float under the lighthouse. When I pumped the water out, the barge came up under the heavy wooden sills of the main lighthouse structure. As soon as I cut away the remaining piles, everything floated free and I sailed back to Edenton with my new home. The whole job took about 36 hours." Wiggins placed the lighthouse on a piece of property he had purchased near the mouth of Filbert's Creek. 
The lighthouse was used as a rental property for a few years and then served as Wiggins' primary residence starting around 1960. Rhea Adams lived in the lighthouse from 1957 to 1959 with his parents, Rhea and Lucy, and a brother. Rhea Jr. contributed the two historic pictures included in the text that show how Rhea Sr. helped renovate the lighthouse and make it livable during their stay. 
The bell and lens from the lighthouse were donated to the town of Edenton in the 1970s. The bell, fabricated by the Mc Shane Bell Foundry of Baltimore, MD in 1901, was removed from the lighthouse and placed on display in Queen Anne Park, but for some reason, the lens remained atop the lighthouse in a lantern room with broken window panes. 
The museum and the Washington County Roanoke River Commission decided they could build a lighthouse for much less than that, and in the fall of 2001, pilings were sunk into a grass field along the banks of the Roanoke River in Plymouth to serve as the foundation for a replica of the 1866 Roanoke River Lighthouse. Over the next two years, work on the lighthouse was carried out using plans copied from the originals that were located at the National Archives. Much of the project's cost was covered by $515,000 in federal funding.
In May of 2007, the Edenton Historical Commission purchased the lighthouse for $225,000 and paid $75,000 for Worth H. Hare & Son House Movers Inc. to load the lighthouse onto a barge and transport it to Colonial Park at Edenton's downtown waterfront area. The move took place on May 23, 2007. The future of North Carolina's one authentic screwpile lighthouse now looks bright as the historical commission plans to position the lighthouse atop piles and convert it into a maritime center. The Fresnel lens was removed before the move but will be returned to the lighthouse when renovations are complete.
Now located Downtown Plymouth, NC.

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