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The current Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, unlike its Outer Banks counterparts, it not an original. Instead, it is a replica of the original lighthouse that was constructed in 1877 at the southern entrance of the Croatan Sound in Wanchese, to help both passing sailors and local fishermen find their way to port. This lighthouse was actually the third to carry the name “Roanoke Marshes Light” as the first two, also constructed in the 1800s, were lost soon after they were constructed and put into service.
The first Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse went into service in 1831 but was abandoned by its light keeper after just 8 years because of extensive and neglected repairs.
The second Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse was first lit in 1858, and despite being taken out of service by the Confederate soldiers briefly during the Civil War, remained in operation for almost 15 years. Unfortunately, by 1872, a combination of sinking marshes, erosion, and shipworms had devastated the foundation structure beyond repair.
A third lighthouse was build and completed in 1877, and this one was a white, square structure which was supported by seven screw piles. After a few years of trial and error, and several ships accidently banging along the base of the lighthouse, 80 more piles were installed around the base of the lighthouse, and as a result, it remained in its Wanchese location for over 60 years.
By the 1950s, however, with the onset of more modern navigational tools, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse was simply no longer needed and it was decommissioned in 1955 and sold to a private owner. Unfortunately, this original lighthouse was lost in the sound during an attempt to move it to inland private property, and for many decades thereafter, was all but forgotten.
It wasn’t until 1999 when the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse came to the attention of Roanoke Island residents again, during the planning of Manteo’s centennial celebration. The town of Manteo hoped to have a full-scale exact replica up and running by the following year, however government and funding delays, as well as the unexpected onslaught of Hurricane Isabel in 2003, postponed progress. The new “Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse” was finally completed and dedicated in September 25, 2004 along with the neighboring George Washington Creef Boathouse.
The fourth-order Fresnel lens in the lantern room was loaned to the town of Manteo by the US Coast Guard to celebrate the occasion, and dates back to the 1800s.