On August 5, 1989 an event called “Two Hundred Years of Light by the Light” was held on Bald Head Island.
The celebration cost $12 to attend, including the ferry ride to and from the island. During the event, people could see life-saving demonstrations, hear sea chanteys, learn about the lighthouse’s history, view artifacts from the Life Saving Museum of Virginia, and take tours of a Coast Guard Cutter and a rescue helicopter from Cherry Point. An arts and crafts show featured the work of a dozen artists, most of who were from North Carolina and a dinner at the island’s River Pilot Café benefitted the Old Baldy Foundation. Speakers at the $30-a-plate dinner included retired Coast Guard Captain Robert Bennett, UNCW Professor Alan D. Watson, and Brunswick County State Representative David Redwine. At the end of the evening, there was a fireworks display.
The August festival marked the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Lighthouse Act, passed by the First Congress of the United States, and signed into law by George Washington on August 7, 1789. The federal government’s quick action to place the nation’s lighthouses under their authority illustrates how important the nation’s rivers and ocean were to 18th century life, as these were the region’s primary transportation routes. Lighthouses and other navigational aids guided vessels in the waterways.
The bicentennial celebration of the Lighthouse Act was held on Bald Head Island in part because of the longstanding link between the island and lighthouses. Bald Head Island’s first lighthouse was funded by the 1789 act and completed in 1795. It was torn down in 1813. Its replacement, known as “Old Baldy,” was built in 1817 and is the oldest extant lighthouse in North Carolina. Old Baldy has changed over the years, as new technologies such as the Fresnel lens have been added to better illuminate the waters. Regardless of those technological changes, it has stood as a constant beacon and navigational aid, shining on mariners through nearly two centuries of both peace and war.
Cape Fear Museum’s collection includes images of Bald Head Island, “Old Baldy” Lighthouse, and a program, t-shirt, and pin from the August 1989 festival.
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