Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2011-04-01.
Hereford Inlet is a small cut through a barrier island that bridges the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. Due to strong currents and frequently shifting sand bars just off the coast, a Life Saving Station was established in 1849 at the inlet. With the increase in shipping traffic and shipwrecks over the years following 1849, a new larger station was established in 1871. On June 10, 1872, Congress appropriated $25,000 for the establishment of a fourth order lighthouse at Hereford Inlet. A little over a year later, on July 7, 1873, the Lighthouse Board secured one and a half acres of land from Humphrey S. Cresse for the sum of $150.00.
Per the Message From The President of the United States To The Two Houses of Congress dated 1872:
Hereford Inlet, on the coast of New Jersey, ten and three-fourths nautical miles north of Cape May Light house.- A small light, say a fourth order, is respectfully recommended for this place, as it would be of importance to the coal trade, and to steamers navigating Delaware Bay and River, and to mark the entrance to the inlet, where there is a good harbor of refuge for small coasting vessels. Estimated cost $25,000.
Hereford Inlet, sea-coast of New Jersey, ten and three-quarters nautical miles north of Cape May's light-house.- Congress at its last session having appropriated $25,000 for erecting a light-house at or near this point, measures will be taken without delay to locate its site, and make arrangements for the purchase of a suitable piece of ground, with the necessary steps for the cession of jurisdiction by the legislature of New Jersey to the Government of the United States.
The lighthouse was designed by Paul J. Pelz, chief draftsman of the Lighthouse Board. The lighthouse is unique on the East Coast, however, Pelz designed several other lighthouses in the same "stick-style" on the West Coast, such as East Brother Island in Richmond, California. He would later go on to design the Library of Congress building in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo
Construction of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse was supervised by Colonel William F. Raynolds of the Army Corp. of Engineers, starting on November 8, 1873 and concluding on April 16, 1874. The light was first lit on May 11, 1874 following a "Notice to Mariners" stating the latitude and longitude of the lighthouse, and noting that its light was visible for 13 miles. Colonel William F. Raynolds was responsible for construction of many of the New Jersey coastal lighthouses, such as Absecon Lighthouse to the north and the Cape May Lighthouse to the south.
The first keeper, John Marche, would serve for less than three months, before drowning while returning to his post from the mainland. John Nickerson would take over, but only for a short time as Freeling Hewitt is also listed as starting in 1874. Keeper Hewitt would keep watch for the next 45 years.
On the night of October 23, 1878, while on Keeper Hewitt's watch, a hurricane passed off the coast of the New Jersey shore. The Great Hurricane of 1878 would bring wind speeds were near 65 mph by 1am and would reach a peak of 84 mph later that morning. Keeper Hewitt escaped with his family after fearing collapse of the tower as the storm surge lifted the tower off its foundation.
This wasn't the only storm that Keeper Hewitt would face. In September of 1889, another hurricane would hit the Mid-Atlantic coast. This one was a category two hurricane which stalled off the coast, and gradually dissipated, but not before sending a storm surge ashore. Keeper Hewitt maintained his post, while allowing 18 neighbors to ride out the storm in the tower. Both hurricanes had caused severe erosion in the area, not to mention the numerous Nor'easters that wreaked havoc on the area over the years.
Still another storm would have its sights set on the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse. This time, in August of 1913, a storm would completely undermined the northeast side of the building causing a 5 degree tilt. The Lighthouse Board acted quickly and had the lighthouse moved by 1914. The location of the lighthouse today is about 150 feet west of where it originally stood.
Hurricanes and erosion weren't the only dangers the keepers and the lighthouse faced. In 1902, Keeper Hewitt noticed a fire in the kitchen ceiling. He and his assistant worked quickly and extinguished it before it spread. This wouldn't be the only fire at the lighthouse, another one would take place in 1938.
Keeper Ferdinand Heinzman was working outside applying a coat of paint to the tower when he heard his wife cry "Fire!" Coast Guard personnel from the station next door spotted smoke coming from the lighthouse and alerted the fire department. Keeper Heinzman attempted to get to his daughter in the nursery on the second floor with a fire extinguisher, but the flames forced him to retreat. Without hesitation, he grabbed a ladder and hose and fought the fire through a second story window, extinguishing the blaze. He was able to save the lighthouse and his family, walking away with singed hair. An investigation would reveal that spontaneous combustion in a closet caused the fire.
In 1964, the U.S. Coast Guard replaced the lighthouse with an automated light on a skeletal tower. The lighthouse and the Coast Guard station next door were transferred to the New Jersey State Marine Police. The police occupied the Coast Guard station, but had no use for the lighthouse, so it was boarded up to deter vandals. It would sit that was for 18 years.
In 1982, the City of North Wildwood, New Jersey signed a lease to take over care of the lighthouse. They immediately started the necessary restoration work to rehabilitate the tower. By July 1, 1983, the group was able to open the tower to visitors, and by 1986, we able bring the light back to the lantern room returning it as an aid to navigation.
Today, the lighthouse operates as a museum complete with period furniture, memorabilia, and a gift shop. The first floor also houses the fourth order Fresnel lens and clockwork mechanism that was used in the tower. All money generated from the museum and gift shop goes towards the on-going maintenance of the lighthouse.
Directions: From Town of Burleigh, take Route 147 (North Wildwood Blvd) east towards the ocean. Route 147 will change names several times, first to West Spruce Ave, and then to New Jersey Ave. Make a left onto E. First Ave. Go up two blocks to Central Ave. The lighthouse will be at the corner.
For more information, please visit http://www.herefordlighthouse.org.
Access: Grounds open. Tower open during season.View more Hereford Inlet Lighthouse pictures