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Hatteras Lighthouse Survives Dennis
By Cheryl Shelton-Roberts
The Lighthouse News
Edited from Vol. V No. 3 Fall 1999

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse survived its first hurricane at the new location. The storm, Hurricane Dennis, arrived early September with waves as high as twenty-one feet and wind gusts above 125 miles an hour, and became a major erosion event from Kitty Hawk to Ocracoke. Shearing winds and sheeting rains logged-in over five-days’ time of mining the coast’s fragile beaches; however, safely back from the brunt of the storm at the relocation site, the lighthouse sustained minimal damage amounting to only broken windows and a bent weather station tower. Facing its first “big” storm after relocation, faith in its ability to survive the harsh elements of the Outer Banks has been renewed.

After Dennis, two feet of water pooled around the new foundation, but International Chimney, Inc. (ICC) and their team of engineers expressed confidence that the lighthouse stood in its natural elements – stronger and safer than in many years. Mike Booher, NPS volunteer and official photographer for the relocation process is quoted “If old Dennis had decided to come ashore and I was around, that’s where I wanted to be–in the lighthouse.”

Persistently high winds caused overwashing at the original lighthouse site. Meanwhile, up the move corridor and inside the lighthouse, the surveyor’s plumb line, reminiscent of that used by the lighthouse’s original supervisor of construction, Dexter Stetson, was still suspended dead center throughout the maelstrom.

Hatteras Window Shattered By Hurricane Dennis
photo by Bruce Roberts

Movers Raced Against Approaching Storms

From start to finish, the relocation of the Cape Hatteras Light Station progressed smoothly; however, with peak hurricane season fast approaching, contractors knew they hadn’t a moment to lose in finishing the new foundation. After the tower reached its final destination, bricklayers waited to begin their work after all move steel had been pulled from under the lighthouse.

The height of the space between the lighthouse’s underside and the completed concrete pad, which measured 60’ x 60’ x 4’ (with one foot of stone underneath) had been “mapped” in a grid by engineers, denoting specific placement of shoring towers. Engineering designs provided a sequence in which to place 147,000 bricks, first in between the shoring towers, then in the spaces of the shoring towers as these were removed.

The first brick walls formed the center walls running from one side of the tower to the other. Known as the "spine" wall, running in a north-south direction, it was complemented by "rib" walls of brick running east-west.

To ensure that the load of the lighthouse settled evenly on the spine and rib brickwork, the pressures on the shoring towers were slowly and uniformly decreased from about 6,000 to 1,000 pounds per square inch. The brickwork settled the predicted one-eighteenth (1/18) inch, and the load was successfully transferred to the foundation.

Due to good weather until the end of August, workers had passed a milestone when they began load transfer to brick walls from the shoring towers. Getting beyond this crucial moment to ensure vertical support brought relief to the team of movers and engineers. Some of the shoring towers could now be removed to facilitate the placement of brick infill between the rib walls.           
Although the vertical load of the lighthouse was secure on the spine and rib walls, the remaining shoring towers would be kept in position until the infill between the ribs was in place. This gave lateral stability in case of high winds.  But on the horizon, another challenge made its way into engineers’ drawing rooms.

The Most Dreaded Visitor

When Hurricane Dennis was initially a tropical storm, conceived off the warm waters of the West Coast of Africa, movers watched the weather as closely as their bricklayers’ progress. With three days’ drying time needed for the new brick mortar to cure, a game of “beat the storm” began. Additional bricklayers were brought on board to speed the work. Drawings of the mapped support areas were studied-- and plans changed. Joe Jakubik, ICC’s Cape Hatteras Light Station relocation project manager, agreed with engineers to do the sure thing.

The areas of greatest load support were filled with brick first, and the lightest load areas handled last. The end results were brilliant.

Before you could say, “hurricane alley,” Hurricane Dennis roared onto Hatteras Island, leveling protective dunes, swallowing houses into mountainous waves, and flooding Highway 12 beyond the breaking point. But by this time, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was sitting on the stability of almost 90% of its brick infill. The most important points of support were completed and cured, and the lighthouse had become the safest structure on the island.

Photo by NASA VRSD Image Catalog

Phase II and Tying Up Loose Ends

Some 140,000 bricks in three different sizes comprised the upper portion of the new foundation. When earth met the base of the second plinth, closure to this leviathan-moving job was made. Phase II of the project ensued.

Paul Cloyd at the NPS Denver Service Center explained the goals of the FY-1999-funded Phase II. Plans included restoration of the grounds of the light station, a comfort station for visitors, a contact station for rangers to greet visitors and conduct interpretive programs, site utilities at the new location, a new parking lot and access road at the new location, rehabilitation of existing parking lot near the 4-way intersection, and fire protection systems and heating and cooling systems at the Double and Principal Keepers Quarters with limited landscaping and walkways at the new location. The move corridor was allowed to naturally revegetate for the most part. Some trees were planted to further protect the Keepers Quarters at the new site.

Looking Back: A Surprising Reality

The Outer Banks Lighthouse Society’s set its goals beginning in late 1994 with its mission to aid in the preservation of the lighthouses of North Carolina and to work with the National Park Service and other agencies and non-profit groups to achieve the safe-keeping of the buildings, artifacts and records of the old United States Lighthouse Establishment, a.k.a. U.S. Light-House Board and Bureau of Lighthouses and U.S. Lighthouse Service. Our first goal was to see what could be done to save the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Representing the vote of society members, OBLHS supported relocation. But it was a rocky road–often discouraging and riddled with anxious moments.

We realized it wouldn’t be easy to win support for the move. But this is the way OBLHS works. We don’t own a lighthouse but try to help wherever we are needed. Letters, emails, phone calls, meetings, special fundraising…we do whatever it takes to get the job done. In the case of Cape Hatteras, Congressional funding was necessary and it would take some educating folks who held the purse strings to support the relocation.

During the late 1980s, money had been appropriated for long-term protection for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, but by 1994, plans had stalled. Instead of the appropriated funds going towards making the move a reality, some of the funds were diverted into emergency erosion control devices and the rest of the money lay fallow. After Hurricane Gordon in late 1994, nothing was being planned to protect the lighthouse beyond sandbags and a proposed groin. The groin was illegal according to North Carolina and National Park Service laws governing hardening of shorelines, so relocation became the only viable alternative to saving a structure destined to become a National Historic Landmark.

Not a great deal happened until 1997. Rumbles were heard from anti-move supporters after a second study was set up by Senator Marc Basnight that was headed by N.C. State University geology and environmental experts in the form of an Ad Hoc committee. The committee confirmed the 1989 findings of the National Academy of Sciences advocating the move. By late 1997, the rumbles had become thunderous protests from those opposed to relocation. Key politicians wavered on their choice of long-term protection for the lighthouse; every step of the way towards solidifying plans for the move was challenged. Surprisingly, Congress appropriated $2 million for the winning bidder to begin the relocation process. Debates became even more heated.

In 1998, Congress was locked in a stalemate over various issues, and its members were growing weary in late-summer 1998 as legislative sessions dragged on. The funds for the move had already met controversy in the House, denying money not only for the move, but also any alternative. The only hope would be for the Senate Appropriations Committee to stay positive about funding the move. Fortunately, North Carolina’s then Senator Lauch Faircloth, a strong proponent for relocation, supported the final $10 million in the final budget bill. Lingering in the budget process, the appropriations request was tucked neatly in the Omnibus Bill, a huge package that if approved, released tired Senators to go home. And, more importantly, the legislation was also destined to release the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to move out of harm’s way.

Congress passed the Omnibus bill, including funds for the move; it was the first tangible indication that relocation would actually occur. What followed would be what one can only describe as “amazing.” The stars had begun to align for the wondrous, historic event.

Not “Light” Housekeeping

Relocation of a brick structure reaching almost 200 feet skyward and weighing 4,400 tons plus 500 tons of move steel for a total of 4,900 tons is no job for the inexperienced. Fortunately, an American company, International Chimney, Inc., (ICC) has been one of the world leaders in building and moving tall brick chimneys. And as fate would have it, this company, led by President Rick Lohr, also had experience in moving lighthouses. They had at their fingertips the foremost engineers to plan every detail for this great move of the twentieth century. From a number of bidding companies, the NPS chose ICC for the big job as general contractors.

Another amazing contribution to this event was a team of Matyiko brothers of Expert House Movers (EHM), who could move the most fragile of objects. Weight was only another detail to consider. They came to the job with a resource of talented, dedicated men who would work around the clock if necessary to finish a job.

And just think of the details…hydraulic jacks to be manufactured, steel beams, special roll beams, new cases of Hilman rollers, huge earthmovers, power shovels, trucks, fuel for the machines, and oh, Joe, don’t forget to pick up the Ivory soap for a lubricant.

Joe Jakubik, deserving great credit for patiently working through each day’s challenges in coordinating this huge effort, commented that the careers of the talented men in this operation were at their peaks. To name a few, there is Jerry Matyiko (EHM) who invested his personal savings in the unified hydraulic jacking system that lifted, lowered, and supported the tower all during the move. Beside him were his hard-working brothers Jim and John, with fourth brother Joe coming in to help when needed.

Frequenting the construction site was one of this country’s leading engineers, Pete Friesen, designer of the unified hydraulic jacking system back in 1954 and Jerry Matyiko’s mentor. The hydraulic jacking system had been evolving towards top performance for this landmark move. Somehow these men even came up with the hydraulic clamps for the push jacks, enabling the lighthouse to be moved at a quick pace, up to 1,200 feet in one day! The move was accomplished in an unbelievably short time, twenty-two days. People who had planned their vacation time around the move, expecting it to take at least another three weeks, complained that it was moving too fast! In response to the tens of thousands who came to see the relocation, local businessmen, who had reaped the rewards of the high visitation, were heard to say, “Put it on a track and keep it moving in a circle!”

Part of Moving History

It was the policy of the old U.S. Lighthouse Service (USLHS) to move lighthouses out of harm’s way whenever it was possible. During the 150 years that the USLHS built and maintained American lights, the civilian-staffed government agency had moved at least twenty lights. Therefore, the choice by the NPS to move America’s most recognized and prized lighthouse is in keeping with the tradition of the old lighthouse service, saving ships and saving lighthouses. Though these maritime aids have become nearly obsolete with satellite global positioning, these structures of history have become major landmarks to millions of people all over the world. With the great probability that the lighthouse will witness another century of existence, millions more will have the opportunity to witness its grandeur and learn of the old lighthouse service and what living at a lighthouse was like near the turn of the twentieth century.

To name all those involved whose experience and perseverance carried this move through with perfection is near impossible. In looking back over the roster, some of the names that jump off the page are Mike Vacante and John Mitchell who ran the mining and coring; Skellie Hunt, site supervisor and diplomat, kept things moving along; Expert House Mover’s Mike Landon, NPS personnel Dan McClarren, Rob Bolling, Bob Woody, and Supt. Bob Reynolds; Randy Knott and Al Tice of LAW Engineering firm; Jerry Stockbridge, engineer of Wiss, Janny, Elstner Associates, Inc.; Dave Fischetti and Gary Hunderman, architectural engineers; George Gardner, ICC’s chief engineer; Steve Crum who focused on the grading and compacting of the move corridor…who didn’t go home ‘til the job was finished. From the engineers to the security officer, Reece Quidley…a team effort. Bravo, guys!

A Continuum

Passing the first survival test of the persistent Hurricane Dennis is indicative of the tower’s renewed strength. It is now anchored in a four-foot thick concrete pad conjoined to the base of the lighthouse with an entity of specially manufactured brick for optimum strength.

The interim emotional adjustment to the tower’s new location is inevitable. For a while, at first glance, we may feel something is missing when we first look at the ocean’s edge and do not immediately see the spiraled giant. But then there is the feeling of relief and acceptance as we swing our view to one side. “There’s the lighthouse,” we think, “over there just a bit. And safer.” There will always remain an argument about loss of historical integrity, islanders’ loss of sense of place and time due to the relocation; however, any great event is defined by its witnesses. Bottom line: the lighthouse is safer where it is and it will be around a lot longer due to relocation.

Our grandchildren’s laughter will spiral up the grand staircase and they will appear wide-eyed and with expressions of awe when they step out onto the catwalk and see Hatteras Island as the old keepers did for over six decades. We can hear their often-repeated question to the guide, swinging their arms wide as they ask, “Have there ever been any BIG storms here?”

© 2006 Cheryl Shelton-Roberts
Outer Banks Lighthouse Society’s LIGHTHOUSE NEWS
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This page last updated : Friday, 10-Feb-2006 5:28 PM