The first Cape Lookout lighthouse was completed and lighted in 1812. It was a 96 foot high brick tower painted with red and white horizontal stripes. It proved to be too short to light the treacherous coast.
The present lighthouse was completed in 1859. In 1873 the lighthouse was painted in its distinctive black and white diagonal checkerboard pattern. It is the only lighthouse known to have this pattern.
The lighthouse is also unique because the diamond pattern indicates compass direction. When the sailors saw a black lighthouse with a white diamond pattern, that meant the ship was sailing east or west. However, when the sailors saw a white lighthouse with a black diamond, that meant the ship was sailing south or north.