The 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton (History and How to Visit!)

Last Updated on August 21, 2023

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A visit to the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse is one of the most popular things to do in Edenton, a wonderful small town in Eastern North Carolina and the state’s first colonial capital. Our guide to facts about North Carolina digs deeper into the “first capital” issue.

For this guide, we’re here to discuss the lighthouse, which is North Carolina‘s only surviving screw-pile lighthouse and the only one that remains in Edenton today. Before you visit this bucket list-worthy place, our article will delve into the Roanoke River Lighthouse’s history, background, and everything else you need to know.

Read More: Unique Things to Do in North Carolina

The 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse (History and Background)

Roanoke River Lighthouse

The 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse that we know today was completed in 1887 after fire and ice damaged its predecessor. The lighthouse also originally stood at the entrance of the Roanoke River in the Albemarle Sound, across from its current location.

It was commissioned from 1887 to 1941 when it was then deactivated and abandoned by the Coast Guard. The lighthouse sat vacant for more than 15 years before it was sold to Elijah Tate, a former employee.

He then sold it to Emmet Wiggins, who was a World War II Navy Engineer Captain. Wiggins achieved the impossible by transporting the lighthouse to Filbert’s Creek.

The lighthouse remained a private residence for the next 40 years until the Edenton Historical Commission acquired it in 2007. Since then, the EHC has moved the lighthouse to where it currently sits by the waterfront and has begun to restore it. 

Read More: The Most Interesting Historic Towns in North Carolina

What is a Screw-Pile Lighthouse?

Edenton Lighthouse close view

The Roanoke River Lighthouse is popular for a number of reasons, the main one being its unique structure as a screw-pile lighthouse. A screw-pile lighthouse is one that resides on sandy or muddy river bottoms.

The piles that hold up the structure are screwed into the land to maintain stability during heavy storms. Screw-piles were mainly constructed in the Chesapeake Bay, North Carolina sounds, and river entrances.

Screw-pile lighthouses are quite different from traditional straight-pile lighthouses in that they are made of hexagonal wooden buildings and a cupola for viewing.

While straight-pile lighthouses are scattered throughout North Carolina (for example, Bodie Island Lighthouse on the Outer Banks), the Roanoke River Lighthouse is the last screw-pile lighthouse in North Carolina and the last original screw-pile left in the world. 

Read More: The Historic Inner Banks Inn in Edenton (and 7 Things We Love About It!)

Visiting the Roanoke River Lighthouse Today (Admission Info and Hours)

Edenton lighthouse history

Located near Colonial Park, the ramp to the lighthouse deck (and nearby playground) is handicap accessible.

Unlike some other North Carolina lighthouses, the Roanoke River Lighthouse does not have many steps to climb. The interior of the lighthouse has been outfitted to look the same as it did when it was still in use.

It’s easy to sit down and imagine what a day in the life would be like at this lighthouse.

inside the Roanoke River Lighthouse

Like most NC Historic Sites, the Roanoke River Lighthouse is open from Tuesday to Saturday (9:00 am to 5:00 pm). At the time of writing, a ticket for a guided tour is required to enter.

Tours run from Tuesday to Saturday (10:00 am to 4:00 pm), and you can either buy your ticket on-site or at the Historic Edenton Visitor’s Center (108 Broad St).

We also recommend visiting the Penelope Barker House to learn more about the Edenton Tea Party. This is also where you can buy tickets for the trolley.

Read More: How to Enjoy the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island (7 Important Tips!)

Ready to Visit the Roanoke River Lighthouse?

The Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton NC

Even if you’re not a history or fact lover like us, we think you’ll really enjoy the Roanoke River Lighthouse. It’s a truly unique relic from a previous time and one that we hope people continue visiting.

In case you’ve been lucky enough to visit, we’d love to know about your experiences here and in Edenton. This is such a wonderful spot to explore in North Carolina and we think everyone should know about it!

Let us know in the comments below or by email. You can also share your Edenton adventures with us in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

More Things to Do in Edenton

These North Carolina travel guides share a few more things to do in Edenton.

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