On November 1, 1859, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse was lit for the first time. Begun in 1857, the lighthouse took two years to construct, replacing a previous light built around 1812. The present tower, rising 208 feet, became the model for all subsequent lighthouse construction along the Outer Banks, especially the Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island and Currituck lighthouses.
Built to alert sailors of the dangerous shoals on the southern tip of Core Banks, an area known since the late sixteenth century as “horrible headland,” the light could be seen from up to 19 miles out at sea. Until the completion of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1870, the Cape Lookout light was the tallest such structure south of New Jersey.
In 1873, the Light House Board assigned the familiar diamond pattern to Cape Lookout, and the small community around the lighthouse took the name “Diamond City” around 1885 as a result. Though the community prospered for a brief time, largely due to the success of the whaling industry, it was abandoned after a strong hurricane in August 1899 nearly destroyed it.
Today, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse is one of the main attractions on the Cape Lookout National Seashore, administered by the National Park Service.