The New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge - Soundings Online

The New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge

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The third tower to stand at Cape May Point, the current lighthouse was built in 1859.

The third tower to stand at Cape May Point, the current lighthouse was built in 1859.

When I think of lighthouses, I think of Maine and Rhode Island. But New Jersey? Not so much. Yes, most people know about Sandy Hook, Barnegat Inlet and Cape May lights, but you might be surprised to know that there are a total of 18 lighthouses in New Jersey. Since I had a relatively leisurely work schedule last week, I tried to see as many as I could. The 10 from Sandy Hook to Cape May I figured I could do, but others in south New Jersey and two in Delaware Bay I wasn’t sure I’d make.

So, I drove to the Gateway National Recreation Area on Sandy Hook where I immediately noticed all the old Navy and Coast Guard buildings sitting unused. Looking across the water toward New York Harbor’s Governors Island gives you some hope. This park could be a gem, but it’s wrapped up in government red tape, I guess. Anyway, I headed for the water to get a better look. You can’t help but be in awe. I looked straight up the island of Manhattan, and all I saw were boats, ferries and helicopters. The sights are quite something. Factoid: Sandy Hook is the only survivor of 11 Colonial lighthouses built in the United States from 1716 to 1771. And it’s still operational.

Next was a 10-minute drive to the Navesink Twin Lights. The current lights, originally built in 1862, frame an imposing medieval-style castle. The two lights featured all kinds of firsts, including being the first U.S. lighthouses to use a Fresnel lens and having the first lamps fueled by kerosene. The lighthouses have jaw-dropping views of New York City but from higher up. No wonder Navesink Twin Lights were the primary lights for New York Harbor for a time.

The Navesink Twin Lights were the first American lighthouses to test a Fresnel Lens and to be powered by electricity. 

The Navesink Twin Lights were the first American lighthouses to test a Fresnel Lens and to be powered by electricity. 

After Navesink, New Jersey, I drove farther down the Jersey Shore to Sea Girt Light. About 15 miles south of the Navesink Twin Lights, this Victorian-era gem was built in 1896. When the lighthouse’s second keeper Abram Yates died in 1910, his wife Harriet kept the light burning, but only for a short time. She did not receive official approval to continue her post and was eventually replaced by a man.

About 20 miles south from Sea Girt Light as the crow flies, Barnegat Light is familiar to anyone who’s made a trip up or down the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway or traveled the New Jersey coastline. Barnegat Light is so important to navigation that it received a new light in 2009 that is visible up to 22 nautical miles away. With the gorgeous beaches of Island Beach State Park to its north and 18 miles of Long Beach Island to the south — as well as the bird’s eye view of Barnegat Inlet from every angle — this one is well worth the climb!

Sea Girt Light was the first shore light-station to be equipped with a radio fog signal.

Sea Girt Light was the first shore light-station to be equipped with a radio fog signal.

Tucker’s Island Light is a larger-than-original replica and houses a terrific museum that is the focal point of the 40-acre Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum. There are nature trails, the Jersey Shore Folklife Center and the New Jersey Surf Museum. There is lots of talk about pirates, too. Argh!

Next stop is Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Absecon Lighthouse. It’s New Jersey’s tallest beacon and the third tallest masonry lighthouse in the United States. George Meade, who later commanded the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg, was in charge of overseeing its construction.

Farther south still, the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is a Victorian wonder. It was designed by Paul J. Pelz, who was the architect of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. An example of Stick style architecture, this lighthouse could easily be a five-star bed and breakfast. The award-winning gardens on the grounds feature over 200 plant varieties.

With minutes to spare before sunset, I arrived at Cape May Lighthouse and got a glimpse of Delaware from the southernmost tip of New Jersey. Visitors can watch migrating birds and butterflies on their north-south routes as they depart the surround park land..

East Point, the second oldest lighthouse in New Jersey, is the last one remaining on the New Jersey side of the Delaware Bay. Decommissioned since World War II, it’s accessible to visitors and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the mouth of the Maurice River, East Point Light was built in 1849.

At the mouth of the Maurice River, East Point Light was built in 1849.

You can’t possibly do these all in one day, so I’m saving the others for another trip. The lighthouses in Delaware Bay are all worth exploring— by boat, preferably — and will be on my list for next year.

There is an official New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge that you can do now, during October. It’s run by New Jersey’s tourism board and participating helps raise funds for the preservation of these structures. To learn more about this two-day adventure, visit the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge web page.