Coast Guard Celebrates Shared Past with North Carolina Town

by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kip Wadlow

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – On any other day, an ear splitting explosion and huge plume of smoke issuing forth from a cannon barrel, along the waterfront of a small North Carolina town would normally bring local law enforcement officers flying to the scene in a massive, full-speed response, but this isn’t any other day. On this day, the residents of Plymouth, N.C., and the Washington County Waterways Commission are joined by Coast Guardsmen from Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., and Sector Field Office Cape Hatteras, N.C., to celebrate the town’s historic past at the dedication of the Roanoke River Lighthouse, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2007.

Third Time is a Charm

The history of the Roanoke River Lighthouse seems like it was written for an episode of Monty Python.

Plymouth, located on the southern bank of the Roanoke River, was the fifth largest shipping port in the state of North Carolina during the 19th century. The Roanoke River’s deep draft made Plymouth an ideal spot for transferring cargo from the large, ocean-going vessels sailing into Albemarle Sound, to smaller ships traveling along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway or to railroads for shipment to major cities further inland.

The original lighthouse, built upon a screw pile foundation in 1866, was located six miles down river from Plymouth on the east side of the channel in Batchelor’s Bay off the Albemarle Sound. It served the area until a fire destroyed it in March of 1885.

A second lighthouse was quickly erected and operating by late summer 1885 at the mouth of the Roanoke River. The new structure survived until January 1886 when heavy ice-build up damaged the support pilings, causing it to collapse into the sound.

The construction of a third lighthouse began in September of 1886. This lighthouse became operational in February 1887 and came under the Coast Guard’s jurisdiction when the Lighthouse Service became part of the Coast Guard on July 1, 1939 and continued operating until it was decommissioned in the early 1950’s.

Home Sweet Home

A local salvage operator purchased the lighthouse after its decommissioning, moved it to Edenton, N.C., and turned it into a private residence where it remains to this day. After trying unsuccessfully to purchase the original lighthouse structure, the Washington County Waterways Commission, decided to build a replica of the original 1866 lighthouse in an effort to revitalize the town’s historic waterfront district and introduce tourists to the town’s unique past.

“In doing this project we’ve discovered a lot of history that has been forgotten,” said Doward Jones, a member of the Washington County Waterways Commission.

“A lot of people have brought photos of the old boats they used to use on the river,” said Jones.

Saying Thanks

The dedication ceremony featured several re-enactors representing Soldiers and sailors from the Civil War and the U.S. Lighthouse Service who answered questions and gave demonstrations regarding the town and its historic past.

“We wanted to formally hold an event to recognize all of the hard work that has been done in making these projects possible,” said Jones.

“The Coast Guard was honored to be a part of the dedication ceremony because lighthouses represent our heritage of protecting life and property at sea. For over 228 years, the US Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Coast Guard have guided ships to safe passage within our harbors and inland rivers,” said Lt. Cmdr. David Obremeier, Supervisor, Sector Field Office Cape Hatteras.

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