Roanoke River Lighthouse
This detailed replica of the lighthouse represents the second in a series of three important Roanoke River Light Stations. The first, commissioned in 1810 by the United States Lighthouse Service, was actually a three-masted lightship anchored at the mouth of the river. Whale-oil lights covered with red, green & blue lenses helped sailors find safe entrance to the river. This early light vessel came into the hands of the Confederacy during the Civil War and was retaken by Union forces when they captured the town of Plymouth. Historians think the station may have been taken up-river and scuttled with other vessels to block the passage of the famous ironclad Ram Albemarle.  

The original of this replica, a graceful screwpile design built in 1866, replaced the first light vessel. Later that year, a winter storm froze the Albemarle Sound and the thawing ice cut two of the pilings, causing one side of the station to become partially submerged. A third station was built in 1887 and remained until it was decommissioned in the 1950s and removed.

See the chronology of the light, below, but for the full, fascinating story visit the Roanoke River Lighthouse in Downtown Plymouth. Plan time to explore the Roanoke River Maritime Museum, just across the street.

And while you're there, don't miss the acclaimed Port o' Plymouth Museum at the east end of Water Street, the adjacent Rail Switch Nature Trail (one of NC Birding Trail's featured spots), the Wildife Museum midway down the same street, historic walking tours, and lots of shops and eateries. Visit the Town of Plymouth Web site or the Washington County, NC Web site for more information about these and other attractions.

Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For other times, or for group or special tours, please make arrangements by calling (252) 217-2204. From US Highway 64, follow the signs to Downtown Plymouth. Ample free parking for cars, buses and RVs convenient to attractions.
Roanoke River Lighthouse Chronology


Congress approves money for lightship in Albemarle Sound to aid mariners sailing to and from Plymouth, NC


Lightship was built and put into service about two miles from mouth of Roanoke. It became one of ten floating beacons anchored in NC waters between 1823 and 1836. G.W. Charles and D.M. McDonald are superintendents.


Thornton Jenkins, secretary of the Light-House Board, reports that lightships are in need of “frequent and expensive repairs” and will soon have to be rebuilt or replaced by lighthouses.


April: the Civil War begins and plans to replace Roanoke River Lightship are halted. Later, the Confederate States government in Richmond takes control of all light stations in seceded states and appoints Joseph Ramsey superintendent of the Roanoke River Lightships.


September: Ramsey hires a steamboat to tow the lightship upriver to Williamston. The move is made in response to an order by Confederate officials to prevent the lightship from being a navigation aid to federal ships.


The first Roanoke River Lighthouse is built about six miles downriver from Plymouth, on the east side of the channel in Batchelors Bay off the Albemarle Sound. Thomas Clifton is appointed first keeper and William H. Williams is assistant keeper.


March: Fire started and quickly raged through the lighthouse, completely destroying it.


Late summer: Lighthouse at the mouth of the Roanoke put into service.


January: Temperatures are so cold for such a period of time that the Albemarle Sound freezes. Ice damages the building beyond repair, causing part of the structure to become submerged.


A Temporary light is rigged to replace the collapsed structure.


September: Work begins on a second Roanoke River Lighthouse.


February: Keeper and crew took charge while painters finished last details of new lighthouse. This is the third Roanoke River Lighthouse in two years.

1950s This third lighthouse remains in service until being de-commissioned in the early 1950s. It is bought and removed to Edenton as a private residence in 1955.

completed 2003 

A replica was built, using the plans for the second Roanoke River Lighthouse.

The Roanoke River Lighthouse
is a member of the
Albemarle Riverlight Trail
Hours of Operation
Wednesday, Thursday,
Friday, and Saturday
11 AM - 3 PM
Sunday 2 - 4 PM
and by appointment
Call: 252-217-2204
Major Funding through
NCDOT Enhancement Grant