By Rachael Graf, Community Engagement Coordinator at Outer Banks Forever
On Tuesday, June 20, Cape Hatteras National Seashore completed exterior renovations of the historic U.S. Weather Bureau Station in Hatteras Village with the installation of a new coastal warning signal tower.
Originally constructed in 1901, the U.S. Weather Bureau Station in Hatteras Village was in operation for 44 years before it was decommissioned at that location in 1946. During that time, and for decades after, a tower stood adjacent to the building that displayed weather flags informing community members and mariners of ocean and weather conditions.
“I’ve been a resident of Hatteras Village my whole life,” said Laurie Parker, Hatteras Village resident and English Teacher at Cape Hatteras Secondary School. “The tower could be seen from several windows in my house growing up. We checked it daily for flags. We often based our outdoor activities on it. Small craft advisory flag? No boating and fishing today. Gale warning? We may need to move the cars to high ground.
“The most daunting, yet exciting, was the red square with a black center. Before the days of the internet and comprehensive weather coverage on television, those flags meant batten down the hatches and settle in for a storm.”
Unfortunately, the last remnants of the signal tower on the grounds of the U.S. Weather Bureau Station collapsed in 1999 after sustaining damage from Hurricane Dennis. A replacement tower was not installed until last month, the result of a partnership between the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Outer Banks Forever, the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, and the Hatteras Village Civic Association.
“The return of the tower is important to me because it validates a part of our village’s culture,” said Karla Jarvis, Hatteras Village resident and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Hatteras Village Civic Association. “It was important to us, and its restoration gives a nod to that.”
In January 2021, members of the Hatteras Village Civic Association wrote a letter to David Hallac, Superintendent of the National Parks of Eastern North Carolina, stating their support of the tower restoration project:
“This tower is a significant part of the cultural history of our village and would be a very welcome addition. When the weather station was restored, it became a beautiful building that welcomes visitors and also where they can learn about the importance of having the weather station to warn fishermen and families of potential storms and rough weather. The flag tower played a vital role in communicating this information to the community and it will be exciting for those who remember to see it again and for the newer residents and visitors to learn about and understand the significance of this communication.”
Following the reception of that letter, Cape Hatteras National Seashore approached Outer Banks Forever about assisting with the project. As the official philanthropic partner of the Outer Banks national parks, Outer Banks Forever works to protect and enhance the three Outer Banks national parks by securing funding for projects that help the parks fulfill their mission to preserve “unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
“This project is the perfect example of the type of work we are here to do,” said Jessica Barnes, Director of Outer Banks Forever. “What I love about this project is that it is a local community-driven project. The community really came together and said, ‘We’d love to see the signal tower be reinstated here at the Weather Bureau Station.’ And that’s really protecting our cultural history – but it’s also enhancing the experience for locals and visitors to our national park. This is really exciting for me because it’s an example of the work our supporters are making possible.”
Outer Banks Forever applied for a Tourism Impact Grant of $35,000 from the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau to fund the restoration of the tower in September of 2022, and was awarded the grant in November 2022. Tourism Impact Grants are “designed to help governmental units and nonprofit organizations located in Dare County with programs or services needed due to the impact of tourism.”
“Over the last several years, the Dare County Tourism Board has reinvested $20 million back into Dare County, into our local community,” said Lee Nettles, Executive Director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. “As proud as we all are of that $20 million, I think that we’re even more proud of the fact that it’s gone out in the way of 600 grants to local Dare County entities and more than 140 nonprofits. As much as those numbers say something, all the grant programs are about building community. We’re fortunate to have the tourism dollars to do that, but it really requires community – it begins and ends with community.”
From 2000 to 2005, Cape Hatteras National Seashore worked to repair and restore the Weather Bureau Station building at 57190 Kohler Road, Hatteras, North Carolina, which opened to the public in 2007 as a visitor center.
According to Jami Lanier, Cultural Resources Manager and Historian for the Outer Banks national parks, Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s long-range interpretive plan calls for expanded interpretation of the history of the U.S. Weather Bureau Station, and the restoration of the signal tower “will allow National Park Service staff and park partners to fully interpret the role and function of the U.S. Weather Bureau.”
To celebrate the completion of the project, a weather flag raising ceremony was held on the grounds of the station on Monday, July 10, at 11 a.m. A crowd of more than 70 Hatteras Village residents and visitors gathered for the event, which included speakers from Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Outer Banks Forever, the National Weather Service, the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, and Hatteras Village community members. D.M. Gray, a Hatteras Village resident whose late father, Damon Gray, Sr., was the last person to raise the weather flags at the station, raised the first weather flag on the newly restored tower, the white rectangular flag signifying fair weather.
“I think the tower adds to the character, uniqueness, and history of Hatteras Village,” Parker said. “Our small fishing village has always been dependent on the weather, particularly the winds, for our livelihoods and safety. The tower represents our ongoing reliance on Mother Nature.”
Note: Cape Hatteras National Seashore ranger programs are held at the U.S. Weather Bureau Station in Hatteras Village every Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. through Sept. 4.