A History of “Old Baldy”

Old Baldy's 200th Birthday and Easter Egg HuntBald Head Island, which is part of Smith Island, got its nickname from the dunes on the south beach. The dunes, along the island, eventually became worn down and resembled a bald head.

original_lighthouseIt was decided to place a lighthouse on Bald Head Island to guide ships through the channels and sandbars of the Cape Fear River. In addition, one was also needed to help vessels avoid the treacherous Frying Pan Shoals, which extends over 20 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean.

North Carolina’s first lighthouse structure was constructed in 1795. This light station was located on the southwest point of Bald Head Island. The light station was ordered to be destroyed due to severe erosion along the river. Funds were approved the same year for the construction of a new light station. It was not until 1816 that efforts were made to obtain bids for the construction of the new light.

The new octagonal tower, “Old Baldy,” as it is affectionately known, was first illuminated in 1817. This is the present lighthouse on Bald Head Island. At its base, “Old Baldy” is thirty-six feet wide, and its walls are five feet thick. The top of the lighthouse is fourteen feet and six inches wide and two feet and six inches thick. The foundation and the platform for the lantern room are constructed of stone.

The tower is constructed of brick and painted with plaster on the exterior. The ground floor is made of brick, while the remaining floor joist and the stairs are made from North Carolina Yellow Pine.

The first lighthouse keepers cottage was located the on the west side of “Old Baldy.” Due to erosion, the keeper’s cottage was destroyed. It was replaced in the 1850’s with a one and one-half story cottage located on the east side of the lighthouse. The second structure was destroyed by fire. As a result, a larger two-story structure was built in 1883 in the same location as the previous keeper’s cottage, reusing some of the original brick piers. This too was lost to a fire in 1931. A museum was built on the same spot, replicating the two-story cottage.

Trivia Note: The Island may look familiar to you, this was the Island that Weekend at Bernie’s (1989) was filmed on, as well as The Butcher’s Wife (1991), and Pirate Kids II: The Search for the Silver Skull (2006).

Visitor Information

Directions: From Hwy 17/74 south of Wilmington, Take 133 south to 211 south and once in the town of Southport, turn right on 9th street. Take 9th to Plantation Drive and you will reach the ferry landing that will take you to the island. Information Contact (910) 457-7481 for more information about Bald Head Lighthouse


Please call 910-457-7481 for hours.

The ferry ride is a people only ferry and costs $15 per person for a round trip. Once on the island, you can rent bikes to get around since there are no vehicles allowed.

The lighthouse is very close to the ferry landing so you can easily walk there. It also has a small museum that is set up similar to what the keeper’s house would look like. There is also a shop that sells books, shirts, and various lighthouse related items. It costs $3 to climb enter the museum and climb the lighthouse.

There is a chapel that was built in 1987 near the lighthouse that is open to the public. Across from the lighthouse is a small post office.

Historic Island Tours

Meet at the Island Ferry landing

Call 910-457-5003 for reservations.

Old Baldy Quick Facts:

  •  Bald Head Island Lighthouse was built in 1817.
  • It is the oldest standing lighthouse in North Carolina
  • It cost just under $16,000 to build.
  • The structure is 109 feet and 10-3/4 inches tall, made of brick and coated with cement.
  • The tower is no longer in service, however, serves as a tourist attraction.
  • Bald Head Island is fourteen miles north to south, and 3.6 miles east to west.

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