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Park Service Celebrates 20 Years Since Moving Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Dave DeWitt

The National Park Service is celebrating 20 years since crews moved the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse away from an encroaching shoreline.  

In 1999, the lighthouse was in danger of being destroyed after decades of erosion shifted the sands on Hatteras Island.  

The Park Service recruited engineers to raise the 4,000-ton lighthouse on hydraulic jacks, and move it a few feet at a time. It took almost a month to shift it nearly 3,000 feet away from its original spot.  

The move was controversial, with some residents worrying it would crumble the lighthouse's brick base. Danny Couch is a Dare County Commissioner who was opposed to the move in 1999. In an event earlier today live-streamed by WRAL, Couch said it saved a national treasure.

“There are three maritime symbols in this country that are instantly recognizable,” he said. “One, the Statue of Liberty. Two, the Golden Gate Bridge. And three, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Those are the three symbols.”

Terry Ann Jennette Ponton is the granddaughter of the last keeper of the lighthouse. She recalled a conversation with her godfather in 1999 that showed how the controversy divided her own family.

“When I expressed my opinion on how I wanted the lighthouse saved and I thought the move was a good idea, he very somewhat politely asked me to leave his house,” Ponton said. “But we knew it had to be saved. That's the only thing that could have been done.”

The National Park Service says the move should protect the lighthouse for at least 100 years.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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