Posted on Monday, May 7, 2012

The Hunt for Pieces of the Cape Fear Lighthouse

Wes Lassiter returning a bulls eye panel from the lens to the Old Baldy Foundation.

The Old Baldy Foundation, which operates the Smith Island Museum of History, is looking for lost pieces from its 1902 First Order Fresnel Lens from the Cape Fear Lighthouse. The foundation acquired the lens after it was removed from the demolished lighthouse and is planning to put it on display in a new exhibit building.

The 12,000-pound lens, which was on display briefly at the World’s Fair in St Louis before being installed in 1902 in the Cape Fear Lighthouse, warning ships away from the dangerous Frying Pan Shoals, is now in storage.

The Cape Fear Lens is a First Order category of Fresnel lenses, so designated for its ability to deliver a beacon light miles out to sea. It was owned for a period of time by an antiques dealer in Wilmington N.C., who sold off pieces of it over the years, as souvenirs.

The foundation plans to exhibit the lens without replicating the missing pieces, to properly tell the story of what happened to it.

But some of the pieces have been returned, and foundation officials hope others who may have parts from the historic lens might be willing to return them. “Missing prisms and lenses have been finding their way home. The stories and the people behind their return are cherished,” says Kim Gottshall, the Chair of the Fresnel Lens Committee.  “Each individual experience is a part of the fabric in the life of the Fresnel Lens, and we are determined to remember and share them for future generations.”

Some of the missing pieces are large panels, such as the one returned by Wes Lassiter. Others are small glass blocks that were removed from the lens structure and sold as paperweights.

The foundation is in the process of designing a new exhibit building for its Smith Island Museum that will feature the Cape Fear Lighthouse light. The foundation also maintains the 1817 Old Baldy lighthouse, the only Federal Oct0gon Lighthouse made of brick in the United States.  Old Baldy is also the oldest standing lighthouse in North Carolina.

Old Baldy and the Smith Island Museum of History on Bald Head Island are open daily to visitors. For more information on how to plan your visit, go to www.oldbaldy.org  or call 910.457.7481.