Today we welcome a guest post from Cheryl Shelton-Roberts, co-author with Bruce Roberts, of the revised and expanded edition of North Carolina Lighthouses: The Stories Behind the Beacons from Cape Fear to Currituck Beach, just published by UNC Press.
Of the over four dozen lighthouses that once marked the jagged shoreline of North Carolina, only nine still stand, watching over 300 miles of coast. These beacons are cherished monuments of North Carolina history. In addition to warning ships to safer waters, they now draw thousands of visitors each year. With this book, co-founders of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society Cheryl Shelton-Roberts and Bruce Roberts provide a well-researched, human-centered, and beautifully illustrated history of these towering structures. The authors offer stories—including the misadventures of Civil War spies and the threat of looming German U-boats off the North Carolina coast—that provide important context and meaning to the history of North Carolina’s lighthouses. From Cape Fear to Currituck Beach, every still-standing lighthouse is lovingly described alongside their architects, builders, and keepers and the sailors who depended on the lighthouses to keep them from harm.
North Carolina Lighthouses is available now in both print and ebook editions.
North Carolina Lighthouses
I have been visiting lighthouses since I was six months old, my mother has told me. Raised as a beach-going, tree-climbing, book-loving kid, lighthouses were a natural draw for me. In fact, some favorite things that Bruce Roberts and I instantly shared when we met in 1991 was love of travel, photography, and—yes, you guessed it—lighthouses. He had already completed Southern Lighthouses and was working on West Coast Lighthouses at that time while he was director of photography and senior photographer for Southern Living magazine. I was teaching full time, creating academically gifted curriculum for intermediate elementary students. Six months into our friendship, Bruce called me from a pay telephone at the McDonald Observatory when I was taking a summer graduate course at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He had tracked me down to pitch the idea of helping him with his book projects. I could barely hear him due to noise on the phone lines between Virginia and Texas, and I caught only every third word he spoke. But I got enough details to determine that I was being asked if I would consider including him and lighthouses in my future. I think I said, “Yes,” because, since then, we have photographed lighthouses on both coasts of the United States and Canada, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf Coast while gathering research and oral histories with keepers’ descendants for more than a dozen books.
When I proposed a rewritten and expanded edition of North Carolina Lighthouses: The Stories Behind the Beacons from Cape Fear to Currituck Beach to UNC Press, I felt confident that my problem would not be any lack for material … it would be the time-consuming task of sifting through my extensive collections to choose the most important details and interesting stories to include.
When I began researching North Carolina lighthouses thirty years ago, I honestly had no idea of the scope of history to which I’d be treated. They are just brick and mortar, right? Not quite. To our delight, Bruce and I have learned more American history than in any other educational experience on our research trips to study lighthouses. Our explorations led us to two National Archives and yielded frequent communication with librarians in numerous states as well as photographers, authors, lighthouse friends’ groups, and oral history interviews with keepers’ descendants who were born and raised at light stations.