The waters off the North Carolina coast have long proved treacherous for ships. By some estimates more than 3,000 vessels have met their fates in the area commonly known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” A particularly dangerous location along the North Carolina coast is known as Diamond Shoals. Here, cool water from the north and warm water from the south collide to create a maze of sandbars, small islands, and inlets extending miles out to sea. Though a lighthouse was constructed at Cape Hatteras in 1802 (the current Cape Hatteras Light was rebuilt in 1870), its light did not project far enough to warn ships away from the outer Diamond Shoals.
In 1889, United States Lighthouse Board officials decided that a lighthouse should be built on the outer Diamond Shoals to augment the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The Board provided $500,000 for its construction.
An article from The Charlotte Democrat, dated September 19, 1890 and available through Chronicling America, relates the excitement with which North Carolina residents and mariners alike greeted the possibility of the new Diamond Shoals lighthouse:
“Should it be a success, it would be a cheap accomplishment at any price, for there is no other place on the seacoast of the United States, where so many noble ships have been lost, so many valuable cargoes destroyed, and so many human beings swept into eternity as in the raging waters of Outer Diamond shoals. Should the enterprise prove successful, all maritime men of every nation and all our countrymen will owe a debt of gratitude to Senator Ransom, of North Carolina, who, placing implicit confidence in the statements made by eminent engineers that the work could be accomplished, and knowing the inestimable boon it would be to humanity and to commerce, employed his great popularity with the older members of both houses of Congress to induce them to pass a bill authorizing this stupendous undertaking, national in design and purposes, but international in its prospective benefits.”
See the full article on Chronicling America here.
Unfortunately, the same shifting sandbars that made it difficult for mariners to navigate the area also created problems with the construction of the lighthouse. After several attempts, workers abandoned efforts to build the lighthouse and a lightship was anchored there instead. A permanent lighthouse was not constructed on Diamond Shoals until the 1960s. A light remained in that location for more than 30 years. The lighthouse suffered significant damage from Hurricane Fran in 1996, making it difficult for workers to repair. The light was finally extinguished in 2001, though the structure remains and is a popular fishing spot. In 2012, a Minnesota man bought the lighthouse for $20,000 and announced plans to use it as a research, development, and product testing facility.