EDENTON — Dubbed “lighthouse aficionados” by N.C. State Historic Sites Director Keith Hardison and “lighthouse groupies” by Coast Guard Commander Steven Fachko, the large fraternity and sorority of diehard lighthouse hobbyists can now add Edenton to the itinerary on lighthouse tours.
That development – cemented by Friday’s opening of the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse for daily public tours – promises to be fruitful for Edenton’s heritage tourism industry and for the state office that manages historic sites across the state.
“You’re really going to see this site blossom because of this,” Keith Hardison, director of state historic sites, said in an interview following Friday’s Grand Opening ceremony for the lighthouse.
Hardison said people really prefer seeing “the real thing” to viewing structures that have been built to look like what the original is believed to have been like.
“Edenton is the real thing,” Hardison said, and the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse is just one more example.
“Edenton is a town that respects and honors its past,” Hardison said. “That is one of the things that strikes me about Edenton. Edenton gets it.”
The waterfront and downtown area are really a catalyst for what is happening and can happen in Edenton, according to Hardison.
The lighthouse is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week – the only structure in the state’s network of historic sites with seven-day-a-week access.
“We’re trying to have maximum access for the public,” Hardison said.
“Every time that you open a new facility you add more to see, more to do, and more potential activities and events that can be done,” Hardison added.
Hardison said visitors will be drawn to this lighthouse. He said he met a couple where he was staying who had spent the night in town because of the lighthouse opening and ate dinner in town Thursday night.
“They were spending their dollars in Edenton specifically because of this house,” Hardison said.
Hardison said “lighthouse aficionados” will be attracted to the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse.
“That’s an entirely new group that we can reach out to,” Hardison said.
He said his office plans to hold an annual observance of National Lighthouse Day. That is something that has become possible because of the addition of the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse to the state’s system of historic sites. This is the only lighthouse that is part of a state historic site, Hardison said.
Hardison said Edenton has interesting Colonial era sites, the Underground Railroad connection with Harriet Jacobs, and now the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse.
“You really have just a great synthesis of things,” Hardison said. “I go all across the state but there’s only one Edenton.”
The lighthouse’s seven-day-a-week schedule makes it the only facility in the entire system of State Historic Sites that is open every day, according to Hardison.
Hardison said his office would evaluate attendance periodically to see if it would continue to justify keeping the lighthouse open seven days a week.
Donald Creef of Chesapeake, Va., who attended the ceremony, is a lighthouse aficionado who has an eight-foot replica of the Hatteras Lighthouse in his front yard and 50 models of lighthouses in his house.
Creef donated funds to the restoration effort and also has an 1800s period typewriter he plans to make available for the lighthouse.
Pointing out that the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse had been the third lighthouse to mark the mouth of the Roanoke River, Creef said the design of this lighthouse is different from the first two.
“It’s designed altogether different,” Creef said.
Creef has visited numerous lighthouses in North Carolina and New York.
Now there’s one in Edenton to visit.