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By Cheryl Shelton-Roberts
The Lighthouse News
Edited from Vol. V no 2 Summer 1999

hatteras pathThe first move was one-and one-half-inches up.

On Saturday, June 5, 1999, at 11:30 am, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse had been raised by the unified hydraulic jacking system so workers could begin removing the shoring towers. The shoring towers, four steel posts that are cross-braced for lateral support, have bolstered the 1870 tower since the granite foundation removal began in January.

One hundred hydraulic jacks handled the job of raising the tower in one-foot increments. As height was gained, shoring towers were disassembled. Oak cribbing took over the Atlas-like job of supporting the lighthouse. Absence of the shoring towers marked a milestone in the move process, leading to the load transfer of the lighthouse to the transport system. The transport system consists of the main beams with their built-in hydraulic jacks, roll beams, encased Hilman rollers, and push jacks.

As each lift was gained, oak cribbing filled in the height difference. The lighthouse was raised a total of six feet to make space for the roll beams (also known as track or travel beams/steel). Below each jack area of the main beams and on top of the roll beams, encased rollers were placed. Once the roll beams and rollers were in place, the jacks were reset in a three-zone pressure, able to be adjusted for any bumps along the move corridor.
hatteras move control panel
The control panel for the hydraulic jacks and the hydraulic pump for the jacking system were positioned at the back of the lighthouse, opposite the direction of the move. To monitor the control panel, an operator rode along with the lighthouse to watch each jack’s pressure. If the leading edge of the lighthouse encountered a rise or dip along the move path, other jacks’ pressures were adjusted to absorb the stress. “Essentially, the building does not know it is being moved,” an engineer commented.  And at the top speed of just over an inch a minute, movers had plenty of time to adjust for any inconsistencies along the way.

Record breaking numbers of visitors have traveled long distances to see the historic event. The tallest brick lighthouse in North America has long been the most recognized lighthouse in the country. Its stately height at 198 feet, the clean lines of its spiral daymark, and its memorable base of marble and red brick all are details for instant recall for anyone having even limited exposure to lighthouses. The reverence held by those fascinated with the mystique of Cape Hatteras led to the national movement to relocate the maritime icon before losing its purchase on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

welderOn the move track, the lighthouse was considered as safe as when it was on the aging pine timber mat. Engineers agreed that once the tower had been moved about 850 feet from the threshold of its steepened headland, the lighthouse was safer from big storms menacing the surrounding coastal area.

Pete Friesen first conceived the unique jacking system in 1954. The system has been going through an evolution towards perfection to yield a special jacking machine and its red control/monitor panel, which were built expressly for this historic move. International Chimney Corporation and its team of subcontractors were confident the jacking system would do the job with precision. Some of the major players were the Matyiko brothers of Expert House Movers.

The move took place over about four weeks’ time. Preparation for the move began in January. Slowly, gently, the lighthouse glided to the new concrete pad that had cured since May. Lowering the tower worked like the lift sequence in reverse.

When the lighthouse hovered above its new foundation, temporary shoring was installed to the height from the concrete pad to the underside of the tower, shoring each side of the main beams. The main beams were depressurized one at a time, roll beams were removed one at a time, and temporary shoring (such as jacks on cribbing) were put in place. The shoring towers were reinstalled and tensioned to the underside of the lighthouse. Bricklayers filled spaces around the shoring towers and built columns of brick for support. As support was made on each side of the shoring towers, they were disassembled once again. Eventually all support steel was removed and brickwork conjoined the base of the lighthouse to the concrete pad, rendering it an entity with added strength.

The larger, twelve-foot deep, steel reinforced concrete pad increased the foundation’s diameter, upon which the tower and brickwork rested, to seventy feet from the original forty-nine feet at the old site. (Reinforced steel extended beyond the new concrete pad.) Earth was moved to cover the concrete and brickwork to finish the new site at ground level. The lighthouse gained about two feet of new elevation situated approximately 1,600 feet from the ocean.

As the lighthouse was being raised and beginning its initial move forward, major television and radio networks from all around the country were arriving to document the lighthouse’s slide towards its new home. Like technological bookends to the century, the Wright Brothers had liftoff just after the new century in 1903, and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse had its own liftoff at the end of the century in 1999. Both are prodigious engineering feats. Both events occurred on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The National Park Service began Phase II after the light station has been reset. The Park Service will handle walkways, restrooms, fire alarm systems, a new parking area, and other details concerned with requirements for reopening to the public.

The original exhibits were moved inside the Principal and Assistant Keepers Quarters. To help complement interpretive exhibits at the light station, the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society planned various fundraisers. OBLHS transferred funds to the NPS, Cape Hatteras Preservation Fund, earmarked for a wayside marker to interpret the original lighthouse site. Bruce and Cheryl Roberts served as consultants to write the material for the markers. In the fall, 1999, an auction of move memorabilia, including hardhats worn and signed by the movers and engineers of the relocation, helped to furnish the keepers quarters.

A relighting ceremony was held November 13, 1999. The NPS reopened the light station Memorial Day 2000.


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