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Off the coast of North Carolina in the shoals where the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean merge sits the Frying Pan Light Tower. However, it wasn't always a light tower that guided mariners at sea.

Before there was the Frying Pan Light Tower there was the Frying Pan Lightship. In 1854 a lightship with two lights forty feet high was stationed at Frying Pan Shoals to guide ships safely past the shoals to Wilmington. Except for a four-year break during the Civil War, this lightship and its successors marked the shoals for 112 years. There also was a break in service during WWII from 1942-1945 where the lightship was taken off the shoals and reassigned as an inspection vessel due to German U-boat activity off the North Carolina coast.

In later years the use of lightships was abandoned because of fears their anchors would give way during a hurricane. Needing something a bit sturdier than a lightship, in 1964 a 130’ tall Gulf Coast oil-drilling platform on top of four steel legs was adapted for use as a light tower. It was built in Louisiana and transported to Frying Pan Shoals by barge. The Frying Pan Light Tower is 28 miles southeast of Oak Island. The ocean water in which it stands is 40 feet deep and the light is 130 feet above the ocean, visible from 17 miles away. In 1979 it was automated and the crew removed. Today the light tower is still operational. Accessible only by boat, it is managed by the U.S. Coast Guard and is tentatively scheduled for deactivation in 2004.

The Southport Maritime Museum houses a collection of memorabilia pertaining to the vast nautical history of the Frying Pan Shoals lighthouse, as well as of the Cape Fear area surrounding it. The museum is located at 116 North Howe Street, Southport, NC.