News · Research

Design of Cape Lookout Lighthouse’s Daymark

Cape Lookout NC Daymark ca 1873 NA RG 26 LB 327 lores
Peter C. Hains’ sketch for the Cape Lookout daymark was found in National Archives Record Group 26, Letterbook 327. (The letterbook was damaged in the 1922 fire at the Commerce Department.)

The above sketch was submitted by Fifth District Lighthouse Engineer Major Peter C. Hains to Major George H. Elliot, Engineering Secretary of the U.S. Light-House Board, to make the Cape Lookout tower distinguishable during the day time from nearby coastal towers that were similar in construction. The following letter, dated February 17, 1873, accompanied the sketch:

Referring to your letter. . . relative to painting Cape Lookout tower to better serve as a daymark, I have to say that this object may be accomplished in a very satisfactory manner by coloring it with black and white diagonal checkers as shown on the enclosed sketch which represents the different views of that system, as it will appear from several points of the compass. In view of the fact, however, that Body’s Island is distant some 85 nautical miles in a direct line and considerably greater distance measured along the meanderings of the coastline, perhaps you would prefer to color it with horizontal rings or bands? The background need not interfere with any arrangement of colors, as it is sky or white sand hills. . . . I would prefer the black-and-white checkers for this tower as it is will render the system of coloring uniform; say, commencing at Body’s Island, black and white horizontal bands; then Hatteras, spiral bands; and Cape Lookout, diagonal checkers. . . .

Major Elliot’s concept was approved by the Board and the towers where given their iconic markings by June of 1873.

1873 NTM
A Notice to Mariners was issued to alert mariners to the change in daymark.
2001 photo by Candace Clifford

The Cape Lookout tower retains its unique daymark to this day although with fewer “checkers” than were in the original sketch.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, April 1, 2017

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