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Bald Head Light Station


Lighthouse Data (aka Old Baldy Light)

Established: 1796; Rebuilt: 1817
Deactivated 1935
Position: N 33° 52' 24.6", W 78° 00.0' 01.73"
Nautical Chart
Bald Head (Smith) Island,
Cape Fear River, North Carolina
Characteristic: FW [Fixed White]
Original Optics: 15 Lamps with Reflectors
Present optic: Removed
Elevation: 110-feet high Focal Plane
Range: 18 miles
100-feet high White Mottled Stucco/Plaster
Octagonal Brick Tower with Lantern
Fog signal: none; Jones fog bell - 1855.
First Keeper: ?
Current Use: Historic Site (2)

(1) The Eighteenth Lighthouse established in America and third lighthouse built by the Federal Government.  Bald Head Lighthouse was the first lighthouse constructed in North Carolina to mark Bald Head Shoals, Jay Bird Shoals, and Frying Pan Shoals.  The Lighthouse also served to guide shipping entering Cape Fear River to the port of Wilmington.

      Bald Head Light was built on a small spit of sand extending from the southeastern shore of Bald Head Island called Cape Fear Point.  The Lighthouse was nicknamed “Old Baldy” due to the lack of vegetation on some dunes, resembling bald heads in contrast to the forest behind the dunes.  The “bald” headland was a reference point for early mariners.

      As a Sentinel of the Shoals, “Old Baldy” Lighthouse is located at the southern point of “The Graveyard of the Atlantic,” a treacherous range of waters along North Carolina’s coast from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras.

      In 1789, construction of the Tower was initiated by the State of North Carolina and the Lighthouse with 10 acres of land was ceded to the Federal Government on December 14, 1790.  In 1796, a Octagonal Stucco Brick Tower was completed and First Lit by the United States after four appropriations, totalling $11,359, were approved by Congress from April 2, 1792 to 1796.

      In 1813, beach erosion destroyed the original tower and Congress appropriated $16,000 “for rebuilding Bald Head Lighthouse” between 1813 and 1817.  The new 100-feet high Octagonal Brick Tower was erected using new bricks and salvaged bricks from the old Tower.  The base of the lighthouse is 36-feet wide with 5-feet thick walls tapering to 14.5-feet wide at the top with 2-feet thick walls, plastered exterior.  “Old Baldy” Lighthouse was First Lit in 1817 exhibiting a Fixed White Light illuminated by 15 oil lamps and reflectors 110-feet above sea level.

      In 1851, a Lighthouse inspection reported Bald Head Lighthouse was not effective as a First-order Seacoast Light.  Yet, the illuminating apparatus was refitted with a Third-order Fresnel lens to identify “Old Baldy” as a Harbor Entrance Light.

      In 1854, the Lighthouse Board assigned a Lightship to the Frying Pan shoals after receiving numerous complaints from mariners that the height of Bald Head Lighthouse was inadequate and the range of the Third-order Fresnel lens was not bright enough to mark the shallow waters that stretch out into the Atlantic for thirty miles surrounding Cape Fear.  For 110 years, Lightships were on Station at the Frying Pan shoals.

      During the Civil War, the Lighthouse guided blockade-runners to the port of Wilmington which became the last open seaport on the Atlantic coast and remaining supply route open to the Confederate armies.  In 1865, the Confederates darkened “Old Baldy” Light before the battle at Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865.  The fort was built to guard the Cape Fear River and the port of Wilmington and the fort was the last major stronghold of the Confederacy.  The defeat of Fort Fisher closed the port of Wilmington and sealed the fate of the Confederacy.

      In 1866, the Lighthouse Board decommissioned Bald Head Light when the Federal Point Lighthouse was completed.  The New Inlet channel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Cape Fear River was opened 4.5-miles northeast of Bald Head Lighthouse and a screwpile lighthouse was built at Federal Point to guide shipping into the new channel which became the preferred entrance to the Cape Fear River.

      In 1879, Bald Head Light Station was reactivated and refitted with a Fourth-order Fresnel lens as a Harbor Light to guide shipping through the Oak Island Channel.  A year later, Federal Point Light was discontinued due to the closing of the New Inlet Channel by the Engineering Department.

      A 1881 report noted rapid beach erosion near the Lighthouse due to increased flow of water through Oak Island Channel caused by the closing of New Inlet Channel.  A 150-feet long stone jetty was approved to protect the Tower’s foundation in 1883.  The completed jetty may have saved the Lighthouse from the hurricane of September 1883.

      In 1889, a Lighthouse Board report recommended a first-order lighthouse with range of 18.5-miles to cover the shoals extending from Cape Fear for 18 miles.  The Lightship at the outer edge of the shoals did not provide adequate protection due to the small area covered by the ship’s lanterns.  The Board recommended a new lighthouse every year until Congress appropriated $35,000 for construction on July 1, 1898.

      In 1903, a 150-feet high skeleton Tower was completed and fitted with First-order Fresnel Lens exhibiting a Flashing White light 159-feet above sea level.  The new coastal Light was called Cape Fear Lighthouse and the old Light Station was renamed Bald Head Lighthouse.  Cape Fear Lighthouse was decommissioned and demolished in 1958 after Oak Island Lighthouse was first lit.  Three Light Keeper cottages built in 1903 are called Captain Charlie’s Station in honor to Cape Fear Light’s first Keeper, Captain Charlie Swan who retired in 1933. The restored homes are located at the end of Federal Road.

      Bald Head Lighthouse was fixed harbor light until 1935 when the Bureau of Lighthouses deactivated the Lighthouse.  From 1941 to 1958, “Old Baldy” Light was the site of a radiobeacon to guide ships into the Cape Fear River Channel during heavy fog.

      In 1958, The radiobeacon was removed from “Old Baldy” Light and Cape Fear Lighthouse was demolished upon the completion of Oak Island Lighthouse.  The modern Oak Island Lighthouse and the Frying Pan Shoals Lighthouse tower have replaced both the old shoal sentinels.

      In 1963, the government sold the Lighthouse to a private owner who later sold “Old Baldy” Light to the Carolina Cape Fear Corporation.

      In 1985, Old Baldy Foundation was formed to preserve the Heritage of North Carolina’s Oldest Lighthouse.  The Lighthouse was restored from 1990 to 1993.  The Smith Island Museum of History was completed in April 2000 and is a replica of a Old Baldy Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage, circa 1850’s.

(2) Bald Head Island is accessible by a 15-minute ferry crossing from Southport.  For ferry schedule and rates, call the Bald Head Island Information Center at (800) 234-1666.

Old Baldy Foundation
PO Box 3007; Bald Head Island, NC 28461

Directions from Southport:
From NC 211 (Howe Street), Turn West (right) onto West 9th Street and follow the signs through the gate on Indigo Plantation Drive to the ferry landing at 6099 Indigo Plantation Drive, Southport, NC 28461.

      From U.S. Highway 17, Southport is 60 miles north of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and 30 miles south of Wilmington, N.C.

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Public Access

For Ferry Info, please visit
Bald Head Island Ferry.

For Visitor Info, please visit
The Old Baldy

For additional info,
see Note (2).

Bald Head Island

- Google Map 

For Directions, See Note 2.

Travel Links

Lighthouse Cruises

- Carolina Explorer 
 Wildlife Tours 

Bald Head and Oak Island
Lighthouses can be seen
on The Cape Fear River

Old Baldy Light


Replica Keeper’s house
(Built in 2000) is a Museum,
and Oil House

National Register of Historic
Places - 75001242
Bald Head Lighthouse

Document Updated: Wed 20 Oct 2010, 5:30:00pm EDT (GMT-4)

Copyright © 2000 to 2010 by Debbie Dolphin. All Rights Reserved.

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