Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2011-03-12.
The first lighthouse at Barnegat was designed and constructed by Winslow Lewis. Lewis was very well known in the lighthouse community, as it was his patented Argand lamps and parabolic reflectors that were installed in many lighthouses in the United States. Congress appropriated the $6,000 necessary for the tower on June 30, 1834. The tower stood 40 feet tall, and was built of brick and mortar and first shown its fixed white light on July 20, 1835 using Lewis's own lighting apparatus. Many ship's captains complained that on a good day, the light was visible for no more than 10 miles to sea, however, if the weather was less than forgiving, it was barely discernable. Many mariners had mistaken it for a passing ship's light.
Acting on the advice of captains, the Lighthouse Board sent an inspector, George G. Meade, to report back on the condition of the lighthouse in September of 1855. What he found was cracking mortar, missing bricks, sub-standard building materials, and walls bowing out. After seeing this, he recommended the construction of a new tower of the first order, and included designs for the tower. Ships heading for the Port of New York from the south, this would be the first visible light they would see, thus making it a good choice for a first order sea coast light.
Construction started in 1856 on a new tower which was located 900 feet south of the original Barnegat Light. Due to the rapid erosion near the original tower, the lantern was removed and placed on a pole in June of 1857. Within a few months, the original 1835 tower succumbed to the erosion and toppled into the ocean. The new tower, standing 163 feet tall, and housing a massive first order Fresnel lens first exhibited its light on January 1, 1859. The new light proved much more effective, casting is beacon 22 miles out to sea.
The erosion that claimed the first Barnegat Inlet Lighthouse would continue in the area. By 1869, the 900 feet between the old and new towers was cut in half. A new Victorian style keeper's dwelling was built at the foot of the tower in 1889, and was large enough to house three families. A massive storm in 1920 sped up the erosion, so much so that the keeper's dwelling had to be torn down and the water was at the base of the tower. This led to the placement of the Barnegat Lightship in 1927, which was stationed 8 miles off shore. At this same time, the lighthouse was automated, and the first order Fresnel lens was removed and sent to a depot in Staten Island. The Lighthouse Board replaced it with a less powerful gas fueled light, and shortly thereafter with electricity.
Locals in the Long Beach Island Community petitioned the federal government for jetties to be installed to protect the lighthouse, but they were ignored. In the 1930s, the locals took it upon themselves to "build" the jetties. They used whatever they could find, including old junk cars and trucks. Finally in 1940, the federal government built two stone jetties to help control the erosion. The north jetty was 4675 feet long, while the south jetty was 2820 feet long. The light in the tower was extinguished on January 1, 1944, exactly 85 years later.
U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo
In 1957, the area around the lighthouse was turned into state park called Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. The Barnegat Lightship would remain on its post for another 12 years before being decommissioned in 1969. It is currently located at Pyne Poynt Marine Services in Camden, NJ.
By 1988, the tower was in need of repairs. It was closed for several years, reopening to the public in June of 1991. Ten years later, erosion was again threatening the tower. The Army Corps of Engineers spent an estimated $1.38 million to shore up and stabilize the tower. Click Here to see how close the water is to the base of the tower still to this day.
The Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park organized a relighting campaign in 2008. They raised the funds to purchase a VRB-25 light with a price tag $15,000, the same as the first order Fresnel lens cost in 1857. The tower was relit on January 1, 2009, exactly 150 years after the first lighting. The original first order Fresnel lens is currently located at the Barnegat Light Museum, located in town. It is currently open to the public for climbing.
- Northeast Lights - Lighthouses and Lightships, Robert G. Bachand, 1989.
- America's Lighthouses - An Illustrated History, Francis Ross Holland, Jr., 1972.
- America's Atlantic Coast Lighthouses (6th edition), Jeremy D'Entremont, 2005.
- Mid-Atlantic Lighthouses - Hudson River to Chesapeake Bay (2nd edition), Bruce Roberts and Ray Jones, 2006.
- "Fire Sweeps Absecon Lighthouse," Rich and Elinor Veit, Lighthouse Digest, August 1998.
- Annual Report of the Light House Board, U.S. Lighthouse Service, Various years.
Directions: The lighthouse sits in Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on the northern end of Long Beach Island. Follow Route 607 north 8.6 miles to the end.
The first order Fresnel lens is located at the Barnegat Lighthouse Museum. The museum is located at Central Ave. and 5th Street in Barnegat Light, only a few blocks from the lighthouse.
Access: The lighthouse and grounds are open.
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