For nearly 200 years, North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse, Old Baldy, has marked the mouth of the historic Cape Fear River. Today, thousands of visitors make the exciting journey each year to beautiful Bald Head Island to learn about the island’s rich maritime past at the Smith Island Museum of History and experience Old Baldy up close – including the climb to the top for a breathtaking view of the surrounding area’s outstanding natural beauty!
For centuries, even before lighthouses, mariners navigated into the Cape Fear River looking for the “bald head.” They used the landmark to find the river channel.
According to Bald Head Island’s historic tour director, Susan Grantier, said the bald head has less to do with the anatomical feature and more to do with sand.
“The head of an island is your highest point – Hilton Head, Diamond Head – and in this case it was a significant sand dune right at the mouth of the river,” said Grantier.
Just as necessary then, as it is now, a marker was essential at the mouth of the cape fear to keep ocean vessels from being marooned on the shoals below.
Today, sailors use GPS and the Oak Island Light House, but in 1794 the Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and the Second U.S.Congress commissioned $4,000 for the construction of a lighthouse atop the bald head dune.
The placement proved to be a mistake, as the dune eroded quickly, and the lighthouse was torn down.
Even though the bald head dune eroded away, the name stuck.
Many of the bricks from the first Bald Head Lighthouse were re-used later for another lighthouse that kept sailors out of the dark for more than 100 years.
The lighthouse was deactivated in 1935, but still offers visitors a panoramic view of the mouth of the Cape Fear and the surrounding homes and golf course that were built in the early 1980’s.
While the area may be more modern than it was, the Village of Bald Head is one of the only places in the United states where gas powered cars aren’t allowed – only bikes, golf carts, and of course boats.