Twenty years later, a celebration of the historic move

By on July 2, 2019

June 30, 1999, more than halfway there. (National Park Service)

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is such a permanent fixture of the Outer Banks, so established as an icon of American history, that it seems odd to think it was ever moved.

But it was, and on Monday the 20th anniversary of the move was celebrated at the base of the lighthouse.

The day was filled with humor and wonderful stories, and from those stories and personal recollections, the account of how the lighthouse came to be moved emerged.

Ben Woody, who was the public information officer  for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore at the time, recalled that scientific studies commissioned by the National Park Service made it clear the best option was to move the beacoN. There seemed to be almost nothing in second place.

Plans were made for the move, even though there was no money — or there wasn’t any, according to Woody, until then-Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight met with President Bill Clinton during a visit to the state and asked that a line item be inserted into the federal budget.

“They left that money in there,” Woody said.

Woody’s speech was filled with humorous memories. He turned and fixed his gaze on Chair of the Dare County Board of Commissioners Bob Woodard, telling the audience about a court case.

“While the move activity was on the way, the federal courts ruled in favor of the injunction that was filed by the Dare County Commissioners to stop the move,” he said.

It wasn’t just the commissioners who felt the move ill-advised.

Terry Ann Jennette Ponton, the granddaughter of Unaka Jennette, the last Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Keeper, talked about the strife within her family.

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. My dad and his sister were born in this house over here,” she said, indicating the lighthouse keeper’s house.

“They loved this place. It was very difficult for them to wrap their heads around the fact that you could move a lighthouse. It was conversation in our household for years. It was a very emotional time.”

And then there was Dare County Commissioner Danny Couch,who represents Hatteras Island freely admitting he had been opposed to the move.

“I was fierce and outspoken critic of the move. So if you want to say, ‘How did that work out for you, Bro,’ go ahead,” he remarked.

But Couch also used his time to trace the change in opinion of the Hatteras residents toward the Park Service to that move, noting out that the effort and expense that was put into preserving such an important part of the Island’s heritage changed minds about the relationship between residents and Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

That was one of the points the first speaker, Scott Babinowich, chief of interpretation for the Outer Banks Group made.

“We saved the stories and ideals that it represents,” he said.

Although the move officially ended July 9, on July 1 the 5-ton ton, 198-foot-tall  lighthouse was moved more than 350 feet, the longest distance of its 2,900-foot journey.

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