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Cape Lookout National Seashore To Mark 150th Anniversary of Lighthouse This Fall


Cape Lookout National Seashore plans to honor descendants of men and women who worked as lightkeepers or life-savers on the cape. NPS photo.

It could be argued that the two most important jobs along the Eastern seaboard during the 19th century were that of lighthouse keeper and life-saver. The former worked hard to warn ships off shoals, while the latter worked to save those who ships foundered.

At Cape Lookout National Seashore, the history of light-keeper runs back to when the original Cape Lookout lighthouse was first lit in 1812. This fall the national seashore will honor the descendants of both the lightkeepers and those who worked for the U.S. Life-Saving Service and U.S. Coast Guard on the cape.

According to the seashore's historians:

The most important part of the Keeper’s duties was to keep the light operating according to the daily schedule. At Cape Lookout Lighthouse it operated from about 4 p.m. until a little after dawn. But during a storm like a hurricane or a nor’easter, the light had to be kept in operation 24 hours a day until the storm was over.

The Keeper began his day by dressing in the official uniform of the Lighthouse Service. The uniform consisted of blue pants, vest, suit jacket, and hat. The uniform had to be worn at all times on duty. If a
keeper was found wearing the uniform improperly, he could be fined or even fired!

Once the Keeper was dressed, he headed out to the oil shed which might be attached to the lighthouse or
nearby. Once in the shed, he filled one or two five- gallon containers of oil and then started the climb to the light. Climbing a small lighthouse was easy and just a few steps to the top. But in a lighthouse like Cape Lookout, he had to climb 201 steps to the top!

As for the U.S. Life-Saving Service, it operated three stations on Cape Lookout: The Portsmouth (1894), Core Banks (1888) and Cape Lookout (1896) stations.

In cooperation with the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, the National Park Service plans to recognize and honor those who worked as lightkeepers, life-savers, or for the U.S. Coast Guard during this year’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of the lighting of the 1859 Cape Lookout lighthouse. So far more than 80 descendants of lightkeepers and life-savers have notified the seashore that they'll attend this fall's celebration.

If you were a keeper, life saver, coast guardsman, or you are a descendant, or if you know a descendant, please contact Cape Lookout National Seashore, with the following information:

* Your name

* Your mailing address

* Your telephone number

* Your e-mail address

* Your ancestor keeper’s name and time at the lighthouse

* Your interest in participating in the event

* Any photos or documents relating to your ancestor that you would be willing to share that would help enrich the event

Please contact Park Management Assistant/Chief of Interpretation Wouter Ketel by phone at 252-728-2250, extension 3005, for more information.

The 150th anniversary of the lighting of the 1859 Cape Lookout Lighthouse is November 1, 2009. Cape Lookout National Seashore is planning special events beginning on Columbus Day Weekend, October 9, 2009, and continuing until the anniversary day on November 1, 2009, to commemorate this important event.


Please note: The October 10th and November 1 events will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the November 1st lighting of the 1859 Cape Lookout Lighthouse and almost 200 years of public service by members of the Lighthouse Service, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Life-saving Service at the Cape.

While the focus is on the event is the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the Cape Lookout area - we will also welcome those identifying themselves as descendents of other stations.

[As for the U.S. Life-Saving Service, it operated three stations on Cape Lookout: The Portsmouth (1894), Core Banks (1888) and Cape Lookout (1896) stations.]

Thanks for the additional details, Wouter!

I am a descendants of at least two of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse Keepers and Cape Lookout Life Saving Station.

M. J. Davis (Melvin Jennings Davis, Jr.) is my Great-grandfather. (Ruth Ann Davis Nelson (his daughter) my Grandmother)
Thomas R. Nelson (Thomas Ruffin Nelson) is my Grandfather. (son-in-law of Melvin Jennings Davis, Jr. and husband of his daughter Ruth Ann Davis Nelson.

There are several others on the Keepers and Life Savers list that are related as uncles and cousins.

I received notice of this event from one of my nephews , Tommy Hinson, and his mother, Dorothy Nelson Lynch, one of my sisters from Beaufort, N.C., We have four other sisters with this same relation: MaryRuth Nelson Potter (Beaufort, NC), Margaret Nelson Willis Rodecker (Beaufort, NC), Nancy Nelson Hill Babbitt (Atlantic, NC), Nancy Nelson Grubb (Phoenix, AZ), and me, Elizabeth Caroline Nelson "Betsy" Bykerk (Prescott, AZ).

Our Father is Thomas Harold Nelson of Marshallberg, son of Thomas Ruffin Nelson and RuthAnn Davis Nelson, and Grandson of Melvin Jennings Davis, Jr. all of Marshallberg, NC.

I notified this site a year or two ago, but have not been notified except by these relatives mentioned above. I would definitely like to get this information documented with the Part Service and the Waterfowl Museum. How do I do so?

I suggest you send this information to the Superintendent of the park. You can use the contact information you find at Simply click on Cape Lookout and go to "contact us." I am sure the park's historian will want to talk to you.

Rick Smith

Thanks to Ms Bykerk for this piece of family history of which I was not aware - I am the second son of Nancy Nelson Hill Babbitt of Atlantic, N.C..

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