Lighthouses in New Jersey
A Light(House) to Guide You: Historic Lighthouses in NJ
Lighthouses have guarded the New Jersey coast for centuries, lining the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay to warn vessels traveling the coast. While exact numbers vary depending on who you ask, the United States Coast Guard has identified 23 lighthouses in New Jersey. Here are a few of the most historic, beginning with the southernmost near our terminal in Cape May and heading up the coast to Sandy Hook, and dating as far back as the Revolutionary War.
Cape May Lighthouse
Location: Cape May
Year built: 1859
With 199 steps to the top, the Cape May Lighthouse is one that is extremely special to us here at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. Now maintained by the Mid Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), the lighthouse has been open to the public to climb for over 30 years. It is the third documented lighthouse to be built in Cape May, the other two now underwater due to erosion. The lighthouse was automated in 1946 and still is operational to this day. Approximately 2.1 million people have paid to climb the lighthouse since it was opened it to the public! Interested in exploring this Cape May landmark for yourself?
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
Location: North Wildwood
Year built: 1874
Designed by Paul Pelz, who would later go on to design the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the Hereford Lighthouse was built on the coast of the Hereford Inlet upon the recommendation of the United Sates Life-Saving Service, due to shifting sandbars and strong currents in the inlet. It only took the United States Life-Saving Service one year on the Hereford Inlet before recognizing the need for a lighthouse in the area and making the recommendation. Now, over 140 years later and officially listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, it offers a beautiful museum, information center and amazing gardens.
Location: Atlantic City
Year built: 1857
While the Absecon lighthouse is still lit, it is no longer considered a functional navigation aid. However, it is still NJ’s tallest lighthouse, and the third tallest in the US. With 228 steps open for climbing, this historic ascent brings you to the lighthouse’s original first-order Fresnel lens, as well as a view of the Atlantic City skyline. The Absecon Lighthouse is on both the New Jersey and the National Registry of Historic Places.
Tucker’s Beach Lighthouse
Location: Tucker’s Island
Year built: 1848
This is the only lighthouse on the list that is actually a replica. Built to guide vessels toward Little Egg Harbor, the lighthouse was built with very poor workmanship, leading many mariners of the time to say that the light it gave off was next to nothing. In 1855, the Tucker’s Beach Lighthouse, also then called the Egg Harbor Light, was fitted for a better light, only for it to be decided the lighthouse was not worth continuing to fund. Little Egg Harbor was not a safe trip at night anyway, and the Absecon Lighthouse had just been approved. Eventually, it collapsed into the Atlantic. Today, tourists can visit a replica of the lighthouse about six miles from the original location at the Tuckerton Seaport Experience, a model town designed to preserve the maritime heritage at the Jersey Shore.
Location: Long Beach Island
Year built: 1835
Recently relit 150 years after its original lighting date, the Barnegat Lighthouse was considered crucial for mariners to avoid sandbars along the coast of Long Beach Island. The original eventually collapsed in 1957, but had not been functioning for nearly 100 years at that point. The beam on the new light, replaced in 2009, can reach up to 22 nautical miles. Actually the second Barnegat lighthouse, “Old Barney” was built taller and with a better light after the first one was deteriorating and being crept in on by erosion.
Twin Lights Lighthouse
Year built: 1862
Initially named Navesink Light Station, this lighthouse 200 feet above sea level was dubbed “Twin Lights of Highlands” by mariners who used it to mark their entrance into the New York Harbor. It has one flashing and one fixed light, hence the name. In 1893, Twin Lights was the site for the first official reading of the Pledge of Allegiance, and in 1899, the first wireless telegraph. Like us, the Highlands also has a ferry terminal, with their ferry, the Seastreak, taking commuters into NYC.
Sandy Hook Lighthouse
Year built: 1764
The Sandy Hook Lighthouse is actually a mile and a half from the Sandy Hook beach, located at Fort Hancock. It is the oldest working lighthouse not only in NJ, but also the United States! Predating the Constitution, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse is over 250 years old and played a role in the Revolutionary War. It was then called the New York Lighthouse, guiding boats to the harbor, and was guarded by the British Army, the navy, and the loyalists at what was then called Fort Sandy Hook. Despite many attempted attacks from American troops, the British help control over Sandy Hook for longer than any other location during the Revolutionary War.