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Roanoke Island Marshes Lighthouse

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by Gail Clifford MD (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer and photographer traveling the world, often following my daughter. Visit our site at and follow us on Instagram @ABLETravelPhoto
Published June 28th 2022
Roanoke Island Marshes Lighthouse, Manteo, NC
Roanoke Island Marshes Lighthouse

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse Manteo NC OBX

The 37-foot Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse sits 40 yards out in Shallowbag Bay from Manteo, NC. One of the low-slung lighthouses, it's a screw-pile lighthouse used to guide mariners along the narrow channel connecting the Croatan Sound with the Pamlico Sound. When we departed the Manteo Harbor, we learned the canal was only deep enough for ships barely three feet across beneath the hull of the sailboat. The lighthouse we see is the fourth one in this area and contains a fourth-order Fresnel lens on loan from the U.S. Coast Guard. We learned that, since the 1800s, a dozen or more screw-pile lighthouses aided navigation of North Carolina's sounds and rivers. It's the only one that remains in Dare County. Two feet wide and four feet tall, the Fresnel lens sits at the top of a short spiral staircase (closed to the public) and lights the narrow passage with a fixed white light.

The first two lighthouses built with the same name in the 1800s were lost or abandoned due to damages with deferred maintenance from the environment. The first was placed in service in 1831 and abandoned in 1839. The second lighthouse was lit in 1858, taken out of service during the Civil War, and then remained operational until 1872 when erosion, sinking marshes, and worms destroyed the foundation.

Manteo, OBX, Outer Banks, NC, North Carolina, USA, coast, OBX, Lighthouse, Single-story, fourth order Fresnel lens
Roanoke Island Marshes Lighthouse Manteo, NC

The third lighthouse to carry the name was constructed in 1877, farther south on Roanoke Island in Wanchese. Several ships accidentally struck the base of the lighthouse, and the foundation was shored by additional piles. That lighthouse was decommissioned in 1955 and ultimately sold to a private owner. During an attempted move to private property, the lighthouse fell into the Croatan Sound.

In preparation of Manteo's centennial celebration, the town hoped to have a full-scale exact replica of the third Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse created for the 2000 festivities. Financial and weather concerns prevented that deadline from being met and this structure was completed and dedicated, along with the Roanoke Island Maritime Center's George Washington Creef Boathouse (free to visitors in the nearby waterfront park) on September 25, 2004.

Roanoke Island Marshes Lighthouse, Manteo, North Carolina, NC, OBX, Outer Banks, USA, lighthouse, unexpected, lesser known, one story
Roanoke Island Maritime Museum by the Marshes Lighthouse

The interior of the lighthouse, filled with exhibits and the 1800s Fresnel lens looks much older than twenty years. The weathered boards and original fixtures prove the care given to the restoration.

Roanoke Island, Maritime Museum, interior, Marshes Lighthouse, Manteo, North Carolina, NC, OBX, Outer Banks, USA, lighthouse, unexpected, lesser known, one story
Roanoke Island Maritime Museum Interior

For the best access, go to the east end of Downtown Manteo to the free public parking area by the docks. As you walk along the waterfront, check out the weathervane and water lines along the path. The Lighthouse and Roanoke Island Maritime Museum are typically open at the same time, Tuesday through Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm.
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Where: 104 Fernando St, Manteo, NC 27954, United States
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