To begin your tour of Old Baldy Lighthouse, exit the museum and walk down the sidewalk towards Old Baldy's entrance. Before entering lighthouse, stop and look up at the plaque above the entranceway.
First illuminated on April 2, 1817, Old Baldy is North Carolina's oldest standing lighthouse and the nation's thirteenth oldest lighthouse. The plaque above the entranceway reads "A.D. 1817," commemorating the lighthouse's completion.
Additionally, the plaque bears the names "R. Cochran" and "D.S. Way." Cochran served as the Customs Collector for the Port of Wilmington in 1817. As customs collector, Corchran was responsible for the management of all navigational aids in the Cape Fear region.
Daniel Way constructed Old Baldy Lighthouse for the Federal government. Originally from Connecticut, Way arrived at Bald Head in December, 1816, and departed after completing the lighthouse in April, 1817. Sedgwick Springs served as keeper and plausibly illuminated Old Baldy for the first time that spring.
Turn right and take the sidewalk around Old Baldy Lighthouse. This sidewalk will lead you to the Oil House, a small brick structure behind Old Baldy Lighthouse.
This is Old Baldy's Oil House. Completed around the turn of the 20th century, the oil house safely stored kerosene used to fuel Old Baldy's lantern.
Originally, the lighthouse service fueled lanterns using whale oil, which is non-combustable. After the Civil War, the lighthouse service began transitioning to kerosene. Although cheaper than whale oil, kerosene is highly-combustable and needed to be stored away from lighthouses in case of accidental combustion. Oil houses such as this were constructed at lighthouses across America from 1890-1910.
Enter the Oil House to view the exhibit
"Empowering Bald Head"
The exhibit "Empowering Bald Head" will explore the energy and technology that empowered Bald Head's historical significance.
Exit the Oil House and follow the sidewalk returning to Old Baldy's entranceway. When nearing the lighthouse, stop and notice the structure's foundation and material.
Daniel Way constructed Old Baldy Lighthouse by recycling much of the brick from the island's original lighthouse completed in 1796 and deconstructed in 1813 due to erosion.
The tan material creating a patch-work appearance on Old Baldy is called stucco. This stucco protects the hand-pressed brick walls underneath. Stucco is an indigenous concretion similar to concrete created by mixing lime, shells, sand, and other native materials. Two hundred years of replacing Old Baldy's stucco using variant stucco recipes have created the lighthouse's patchwork appearance. Before 1935, Old Baldy's stucco was whitewashed. Thus, the famed patchwork appearance is a fairly modern aesthetic.
Continue using the sidewalk to enter Old Baldy Lighthouse.
The base of lighthouse features several artifacts from the Old Baldy Foundation's collections. To explore these artifacts, click the links below.
Begin climbing Old Baldy Lighthouse. Once you reach the first landing, look out the window.
You are looking at the bar of the Cape Fear River, or a semi-submerged sandbar that separates the river from the Atlantic Ocean. Crossing the bar was ship's first obstacle in reaching the Port of Wilmington located thirty miles upstream. Old Baldy's responsibility was to guide ships to the bar so they could reach the protected waters of the harbor.
The area you are overlooking was the site of the original sand dune or hill known as Bald Head. Before lighthouses, mariners used the geographical feature to locate the Cape Fear River. The head of land was barren, or void of vegetation, thus it became known as the Bald Head, similar to Hilton Head or Nags Head. By the 1880s, the Bald Head sand dune eroded into he Cape Fear River.
Continue climbing Old Baldy until you reach the lantern room, called the lantorn.
Welcome to Old Baldy's lanthorn!
To orient yourself to this amazing view, face each letter located on the bottom of the lanthorn's windows and click the corresponding letter for a description.
To continue your tour, decent the lighthouse stairs and return to the sidewalk leading back to the keeper's cottage.