I L L U M I N A T I N G T H E Fort Fisher was once the site of three lighthouses B Y S I M O N G O N Z A L E Z
IGHTHOUSE enthusiasts have a couple of options here in the Cape Fear region. They can visit Old Baldy on Bald
Head Island, and the Oak Island Lighthouse at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County. The
Cape Lookout Lighthouse at the southern tip of the Outer Banks isn’t too far away either.
But there isn’t an operable lighthouse in New Hanover County.
“People love lighthouses. We get a lot of visitors who ask, ‘Hey is there a lighthouse here?’” says Becky Sawyer,
collections manager and exhibits coordinator at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site. “No, you’ve got to go to Bald Head or
That hasn’t always been the case. From 1817 to 1880 three beacons stood on or near the current Fort Fisher site. They were
called by different names: Federal Point Beacon, Federal Point Beacon Light, New Inlet Lighthouse, Federal Point Light-house,
Fort Fisher Light. They served the same mission: to guide mariners through storms or dark nights to the mouth of the
Cape Fear River.
In September 1761, a hurricane cut an inlet across the Cape Fear Peninsula. New Inlet (apparently the people who
bestowed geographic names in the 18th century lacked imagination) became a shortcut from the Atlantic to the Cape Fear
River, allowing mariners to avoid the treacherous Frying Pan Shoals. But the new passageway wasn’t without its own risks. In
1798, citizens on Federal Point asked for a beacon to safely guide ships to the new passageway. Congress approved $1,800 for
the project, but it would be a few years before any action was taken.
A U.S. Coast Survey Map from 1853 shows New Inlet and the location of the Federal Point Light. Right: The third lighthouse,
a simple house with a light on the roof, became operational in 1866.
WBM january 2020