Growing up on the Gulf Coast of South Florida, lighthouses were not part of the landscape. I saw my first—St. Augustine Light, built in 1789—on a family trip to the other side of the state, and was enthralled. Both by the light and its keeper, both keeping house and keeping ships, crew, and cargo safe from the perils of the sea.
I still seek out lighthouses whenever I travel, each one revealing more fascinating facets of the life of the life. And while coastal America abounds with them, there is no region so bountiful with these sentinels of the shoreline than New Jersey, which hosts a Lighthouse Challenge each year that grants the enchanted, like me—still—the opportunity to investigate 11 land-based lighthouses as well as maritime museums and restored life-saving stations in two fascinating and fun-filled days.
This year’s Lighthouse Challenge takes place October 15-16, opening the doors and staircases of historic lighthouses and even allowing a few night climbs for spectacular vistas from atop these noble beacons.
The Challenge costs only $2 per person, with all proceeds going to support the preservation of these treasured landmarks. And everyone who registers is entered in a drawing for a gift basket of donated items worth more than $1,000.
The Challenge can begin at any of the lighthouses along the Garden State’s Atlantic edge. Adding to an excursion’s charm and excitement are plenty of B&Bs, hotels, and countless dining options.
Tips for the Trip
During Challenge weekend, most of the museums and lighthouses are open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. There also are unforgettable nighttime climbs of the lighthouses at Absecon, Cape May, Tinicum, and Tuckerton on Saturday from 6-8 p.m.
U.S. Life Saving Station 30 - 801 Fourth St.; Ocean City
Called Beazeley’s Station until 1883, this is the only U.S. Life Saving Station in New Jersey that was rebuilt in the Service’s distinctive 1882-type design. The last of three stations on the island, it passed into private hands in 1945. As the only living history life saving station in the country, Station 30 appears to the visitor as if the life saving team just went out on a rescue. Open throughout the meticulous $1.4-million renovation funded by the City of Ocean City, Station 30 has gathered a unique collection of historic artifacts and recalls the great human effort necessary to rescue shipwreck victims. Its grand reopening is set for January 2017.
Tatham Life Savings Station - 117th St. and 2nd Ave.; Stone Harbor
Established in 1871, Tatham Life Saving Station is the oldest building in Stone Harbor and was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Murals and displays highlight the station’s heritage. Used as a Coast Guard Station from 1915-1945, it now houses the Ludlam American Legion Post 331. Visitors can climb the tower.
Twin Lights of Navesink - 2 Lighthouse Rd.; Highlands
The Twin Lights, which tower 250 feet above Sandy Hook Bay on one of the highest points along the coast, are fitted with the first Fresnel lens in the U.S.; were the site of Guglielmo Marconi’s first practical use of the wireless telegraph in 1899; and used the first lamps fueled by kerosene, in 1883.In 1898, Twin Lights became one of the first electrically lit seacoast lighthouses in the country. Exhibits show lighthouse and lifesaving station artifacts, plus films and slide shows.
Barnegat Lighthouse - State Park 208 Broadway & Long Beach Blvd.; Barnegat Light
Features panoramic views of Long Beach Island, Barnegat Inlet, and Island Beach State Park, trails through one of the state's last maritime forests, a birding site for water fowl, fishing and scheduled nature walks and talks, and the nearby Barnegat Light Museum.
Absecon Lighthouse - 31 S. Rhode Island Ave.; Atlantic City
Built in 1857, the 171-foot Absecon Lighthouse—New Jersey's tallest—hosts educational programs, weddings, guided tours, events, and more. A recent multi-million-dollar restoration includes a replica of the light keeper’s dwelling, museum, gift shop, and a Fresnel Lens exhibit.
Tucker’s Island Lighthouse - 120 W. Main St., Rte. 9; Tuckerton
The 40-acre working maritime village includes 16 restored and replicated buildings, and the Tucker's Island Lighthouse, a re-creation of the structure that fell into the sea in 1927. Exhibits tell the history of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, Barnegat Bay pirates, and the bay.
East Point Lighthouse - 10 Lighthouse Rd. & E. Point Rd.; Heislerville
Standing along picturesque Delaware Bay, East Point Lighthouse has guided commercial fishermen and pleasure boaters since 1849.
Finns Point Rear Range Light - 197 Lighthouse Rd.; Pennsville
This wrought-iron lighthouse, with its unusual open-frame design, was built in 1876 and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Nearby Fort Mott State Park is a 104-acre waterfront park with buildings and gun emplacements from the Spanish-American War.
Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse - 2nd St. and Mantua Ave.; Paulsboro
First lit on New Year’s Eve in 1880, this light is a key guide for ships heading north along the Delaware River.
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse - 111 N. Central Ave.; North Wildwood
Known as the "Victorian Lighthouse," this unique "stick style" building was designed by Paul J. Pelz, who designed the Library of Congress. A working lighthouse, it also features a museum showcasing the life of a lighthouse keeper in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, plus a gift shop and award-winning English gardens.
Sandy Hook Lighthouse - Entrance off Rt. 36; Sandy Hook Unit Gateway National Recreation Area; Highlands
This National Historic Landmark, the oldest standing lighthouse and the oldest operating lighthouse in the United States, is the only surviving tower of the 11 lighthouses built in the 13 colonies between 1716 and 1771. It dates back to 1764, and has thick walls for protection from cannonballs. The Lighthouse Keeper's Quarters is now a museum.
Sea Girt Lighthouse - 9 Ocean Ave. & Beacon Blvd.; Sea Girt
The last live-in lighthouse built on the Atlantic Coast, opened in 1896, it was built to bridge the 40-mile gap between Barnegat Light and Twin Lights of Navesink. Decommissioned in 1945, its interior has been restored.
Cape May Lighthouse, Cape May Point State Park - 299 Lighthouse Ave. (Rt. 626); Cape May Point
Built in 1859, the Cape May Lighthouse is still an aid to navigation. At the top of its 199 steps are spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. There’s an orientation center and shop. On nearby Sunset Boulevard is the recently opened World War II Lookout Tower, part of the Delaware Bay harbor defense system known as Fort Miles.
A complete list of hours of operation and fees is available at www.lighthousechallengenj.org and www.visitnj.org. For additional information or to order a New Jersey travel guide, access http://www.visitnj.org/form/request-or-download-free-travel-guides
Carol Carey Godwin
September 9, 2016