Moving Cape Hatteras Light

Lighthouse Crossing: These photos, taken June 26, 1999, show the Cape Hatteras lighthouse en route to its new home 2900 feet southwest of its original location. On this day, crews from International Chimney Corporation and Expert House Movers were just hitting their stride; the lighthouse had covered about 1/4 of the 2900 feet and was moving smoothly past a road intersection.

This closeup photo shows the five layers of the moving system. The big yellow beam at the top is one of the strongback beams that provided a rigid cradle under the base of the 200-foot lighthouse. Under the strongback beam you can see the projecting ends of the cross beams. The lower yellow beam is one of the main beams, which were aligned in the direction of motion. In shadow under the main beam you can make out several of the hydraulic jacks, each jack mounted on an ingenious roller dolly. There were 100 of these jacks, and the most critical task of the relocation was to keep the weight of the lighthouse precisely balanced on these 100 support points. At the bottom, the rollers move forward on the roll beams, which were laid on the ground to provide a smooth road for the lighthouse to travel.

This photo is taken in front of the moving lighthouse. The roll beams were leapfrogged forward, that is, beams the lighthouse had passed over were moved around to the front to continue the road. Workers are preparing the beams for the approaching lighthouse. Some of them are spreading ordinary Ivory soap on the beams--it proved to be the perfect lubricant for a traveling light tower.

The rear of the lighthouse was the working end of the relocation. The big red cylinder is the oil reservoir for the hydraulic jacks. The operator stands in front of a five-foot-high control board that has gauges and controls for each of the 100 jacks. Behind him, mounted on the roll beams, are the push jacks, long-armed hydraulic jacks mounted sideways so that they could slowly push the entire assemblage forward. Each push moved the lighthouse about five feet in a barely perceptible motion cheered on by the watching crowd. Then the push jacks were moved forward on the roll beams for the next push. In this way the lighthouse was moved roughly 100 feet per day southwest, away from the surf.

This was by far the most ambitious lighthouse relocation ever accomplished. Cape Hatteras Light is the one of the world's tallest brick lighthouses, and I believe 2900 feet is the farthest any masonry lighthouse has ever been moved intact. The lighthouse arrived at its destination with no damage whatever.

All photos on this page copyright 1999 Russ Rowlett. All rights reserved.

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Posted June 3, 2003. Checked and revised June 23, 2019. Site copyright 2019 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.