The third lighthouse was constructed a year after the Civil War ended and
became operational on April 30, 1866. It was a simple structure, a two-story
house with a light apparatus on the roof. The beginning of the end for the final
beacon came in 1872, when the Corps of Engineers recommended the closure
of New Inlet to prevent sand from washing into the Cape Fear River.
To the federal government the closing of the inlet negated the need for the
lighthouse, but some locals disagreed.
“I was at the National Archives this summer, and I found a petition by the
ship owners and various merchants to keep the lighthouse still lit,” Sawyer says.
“They said we need something because there’s no light from Cape Lookout to
Frying Pan Shoals.”
The effort failed. Old Baldy was relit in 1879 after being darkened during
the Civil War. Sawyer speculates that Congress didn’t want to allocate more
money toward repairs and maintenance for a small, dilapidated lighthouse
just a few miles up the coast.
“The light was in poor condition at the time,” Sawyer says. “They had not
been making repairs to it since 1875 when they started to close the inlet.”
The lighthouse went dark on Jan. 1, 1880, when the lamp was removed.
The keeper’s cottage remained for a while.
“They let Mr. Taylor who was the lighthouse keeper stay in it,” Sawyer
says. “Looking at the 1880 census records, it looks like he was running a
store out of it.”
But it too was lost to history when it was destroyed by fire on Aug. 23, 1881.
The tale of the three lighthouses is a little-known piece of local lore, but
Sawyer suggests it’s a story worth telling.
“We’re known for military history, but this is our local history,” she
says. “It’s local history, it’s archaeology, it’s material culture. It’s all of those
things. It also comes full circle. The acre plot for the lighthouse in 1817 and
1837 becomes Battle Acre in the 1920s, which is basically the genesis of our
historic site and the monuments over there.”
Visitors to the Fort Fisher Historic Site can learn more about the lost light-houses
through an exhibit curated by Sawyer and installed in January 2019.
STANLEY SOUTH ARCHAEOLOGICAL FILE/FORT FISHER STATE HISTORIC SITE
Archaeological excavation of the north wall of the
lighthouse keeper’s residence is seen in a photo
from 1963 of the second lighthouse.
Above: A newspaper clipping
announcing the authorization
of a Civil War memorial on
the site of the Federal Point
Lighthouse. The monument,
located on Battle Acre, was
dedicated on June 2, 1932.
Left: In November 2009, a crew
from the North Carolina Office
of State Archaeology and the
staff of the Fort Fisher State
Historic Site uncovered what is
believed to be the foundation
of the first (and second) Federal
USED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE FEDERAL POINT HISTORIC PRESERVATION SOCIETY