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The New and Improved Roanoke River Lighthouse


Off to the side of the road in downtown Plymouth, North Carolina stands an attractive, yet unusual structure: a lighthouse. It may seem odd enough for a 30-foot tall, wooden lighthouse to be standing in the middle of a grassy park set just outside of downtown Plymouth, but something that only adds to the confusion is that this lighthouse is not and never was real. This is a replica of another lighthouse, and the story of why it was built is interesting, sad, and in some ways, inspiring.  


​                                                                                                                            According to Bett Padgett, the president of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, originally, “There were three Roanoke River Lighthouses along the river. The first two were destroyed by fire, then ice. The third lighthouse was decommissioned and bought by Emmet Wiggins, who lived in Edenton, North Carolina.”


Eventually, Wiggins moved the lighthouse onto a barge and, after some renovations, made it into a home.  Padgett said, “When he died, the town of Plymouth  wanted to buy it and haul it back to Plymouth in hopes of bringing visitors to their little community that was fading away

due to job opportunities that were diminishing.” However, Padgett continued, “The Wiggins family wanted too much money for the lighthouse, which not only would have to be sent down the river, but it would have to be restored and made safe.”


Unable to come to an agreement on what to do with the third lighthouse, the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society decided to search for and was able to recover the plans for the first lighthouse—the lighthouse that had burned in 1885—and gave them to Plymouth. In 2003, Frank Harmon, an architect from Raleigh, North Carolina, completed the lighthouse!


Currently, the Replica Roanoke River Lighthouse is a part of a Maritime Museum that is located directly across the street from it. The museum has information for paddlers, a collection of vernacular boats, and exhibits discussing the maritime history of Plymouth. Padgett told me that they are both open during certain times of the week with special arrangements made in advance. 


The story of these lighthouses is incredible for many reasons. Even though the first two were destroyed and the third was never returned to the town, Plymouth never gave up. The community in this town did everything it could to remind the public that they could visit it. They fought to the very end until they finally succeeded.


Padgett is excited for the public to have the chance to learn more about all three of these lighthouses. As she told me in her closing statement: “I hope you'll reach out to the museum and lighthouse and will return to visit. There are a great many stories about the Roanoke River Lighthouses—all of them!”


-- Caden Halberg

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