Bald Head Lighthous (Old Baldy Light), Bald Head Island, North Carolina
BALD HEAD "OLD BALDY" LIGHT
Location: BALD HEAD ISLAND/CAPE FEAR RIVER
Station Established: 1789
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1817
Foundation Materials: DRESSED STONE
Construction Materials: BRICK
Tower Shape: OCTAGONAL
Markings/Pattern: MOTTLED STUCCO/PLASTER
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE
Original Lens: 15 LAMPS & REFLECTORS 1851
- On December 14, 1790, the State of North Carolina ceded to the United States 10 acres of land on Cape Fear Island, in response to the invitation held out by the act of August 7, 1789, for the States to make cessions to the Federal Government of "lighthouses, beacons, buoys, and public piers, and lots of land for lighthouses, etc."
- On April 2, 1792, Congress appropriated $4,000 and provided "that the Secretary of the Treasury, under the direction of the President of the United States, be authorized, as soon as may be, to cause to be finished in such manner as shall appear advisable, the lighthouse heretofore begun under the authority of the State of North Carolina, on Bald Head, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in said State." Three further appropriations totaling $7,359.14 were made between 1793 and 1797 and the light was completed and first shone in 1796. Between 1813 and 1817, $16,000 was appropriated "for rebuilding Bald Head Lighthouse."
- On July 1, 1834, Capt. Henry D. Hunter of the revenue cutter Taney inspected Bald Head Light which he described as having 15 lamps, 109 feet above the level of the sea, showing a fixed light. Two years later he again inspected the light. "The keeper is an old revolutionary soldier," he reported "and is unable from sickness to give the lighthouse his constant personal attention. The light, however, shows well from a distance."
- A Jones fog bell was placed near Bald Head Lighthouse in 1855. In the same year the Lighthouse Board recommended the substitution of "a third-order lens, larger model, 3600 for the present apparatus." It also recommended a fixed light, light, varied by flashes "to distinguish this light, under all circumstances, from Federal Point Light."
- The range lights on the upper jetty of Cape Fear River, which had been installed in 1856, "were extinguished by the rebels in 1861, and the structures entirely destroyed."
- In 1866 Bald Head Light was discontinued after a new lighthouse had been built at the mouth of the Cape Fear River to replace Federal Point Light. In 1880, however, Federal Point Light had been rendered useless and was discontinued because of the closing of the New Inlet Channel by the Engineer Department. Bald Head Light was relighted at that time and, together with a small stake light on the beach in front of it, served as a guide through the 16- to 18-foot Oak Island Channel across the bar.
- The shore on the inside was reported in 1881 as being "rapidly abraded by the action of the sea, which is doubtless increased by the augmented flow of water through Oak Island Channel due to the closing of New Inlet." In the following year it was noted, "Some means of protection must soon be used, or the lighthouse will be destroyed." In August 1883 a stone jetty, 150 feet long, was authorized for the protection of the foundation of the tower. This work was completed, in time probably, to save the tower from destruction in the hurricane of September 1883. In 1885 the jetty was extended another 50 feet.
- In 1889 the Lighthouse Board reported that the shoals forming the continuation of Cape Fear for about 18 miles to the southeast were dreaded by ship masters only a little less than those at Cape Hatteras. The lightship, near the outer extremity of the shoals, warned vessels of danger and gave them a good point of departure, but was not sufficient to insure adequate protection because of the small area lighted by it, and its liability to being set adrift from its moorings during violent storms, at the very time it was most needed. The Cape Fear Light (Bald Head), on account of its inland position and want of height, did not cover the shoals and therefore did not give sufficient warning to vessels in case the lightship should drift from her moorings. The Board, therefore, recommended a first-order lighthouse, with a radius of 18 1/2 miles of light, about 150 feet high and costing $150,000 to be built on the pitch of Cape Fear.
- This recommendation was made each year thereafter until 1897, the estimate being revised downward to $70,000 in 1893. On July 1, 1898, Congress appropriated $35,000 for the new lighthouse, with authority to contract for another $35,000, followed by an appropriation for a similar amount on March 3, 1901. A new skeleton tower was completed in 1903 on Smith Island and furnished with a first-order flashing lens apparatus.
- Upon completion of the new Cape Fear Light the old Cape Fear Station (Bald Head) was changed to a fourth-order fixed light and its name changed to Bald Head Light Station. The station was discontinued in 1935. A radiobeacon was established on the site in 1941.