Here’s an enlightening suggestion for a unique day trip: think lighthouses! New Jersey has many to explore, and they’re important and historic parts of our coastal heritage. You’ll appreciate the distinctive differences in the architecture and informative displays that show how the mechanisms of lighthouses function and the role they’ve played in the community, sometimes under the direst of circumstances and stormy conditions. Maritime museums feature authentic equipment, apparel, photos, and other memorabilia to illustrate life in a lighthouse. Most enjoyable are the bucolic surroundings and the spectacular views that they offer if you choose to climb the staircases that lead to the top.
Here are some highlights of lighthouses that are open to the public. Be sure to check ahead for hours and admission fees.
The Tucker’s Island Lighthouse is located at Tuckerton Seaport on West Main Street in Tuckerton. The seaport, a working maritime village, lies along Tuckerton Creek. This one-of-a-kind attraction, in the heart of the historic town, brings to life the Jersey Shore’s seafaring traditions of the past and present. It features recreated and historic buildings, demonstrations, interpretive exhibits, special events, festivals, live aquatic displays, and more throughout the year. Decoy carvers, boat builders, basket makers, and baymen entertain and educate guests of all ages. Stroll along the ¾ mile boardwalk, identify birds and plants on the ¼ mile nature trail, or view the assortment of watercraft on land and water. Go to www.TuckertonSeaport.org.
The Barnegat Lighthouse, affectionately known as Old Barney, was originally lit in 1859 and is located at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park in Barnegat Light. On January 1, 2009 – exactly 150 years later – it was illuminated with a shiny new Coast Guard-approved lens, creating a single beam of light visible for up to 22 nautical miles. The original lens, which was removed in 1927, is still on display at the Barnegat Lighthouse Historical Society Museum. Visitors who trek to the top of the lighthouse are rewarded with a panoramic view of Island Beach, Barnegat Bay, and Long Beach Island. Visit www.friendsofbarnegatlighthouse.org.
Finn’s Point Lighthouse is found on Lighthouse Road in Pennsville, on the Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. It is part of the larger Cape May National Wildlife Refuge and recognized as wetlands of international importance, and an international shorebird reserve. The refuge currently owns about 3,000 acres and its tidal marshes provide waterfowl with a vital feeding and resting area, especially during the fall and spring migrations. Birdwatchers are sure to enjoy the incredible quantity and variety of species that call this home. Go to www.fws.gov/northeast/nj/spm.htm.
The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, dating to 1874, is known as the Victorian Lighthouse. The unique “stick style” building was designed by the designer of the Library of Congress. A working lighthouse as well as a museum, it showcases the life of a lighthouse keeper in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There is a gift shop, with award-winning English gardens surrounding the building. The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is located on North Central Avenue in North Wildwood. Visit www.herefordlighthouse.org.
The present tower of the Cape May Lighthouse, adjacent to the community of Cape May Point and just two miles from the city of Cape May in Cape May Point State Park, has been an attention-getting landmark and navigational aid to mariners throughout its history. A trip to the lighthouse, including a climb to the top to take in the picturesque view of the sea, bay, and countryside, is a must-do attraction for many travelers to the area. Check out www.capemaymac.org/attractions/lighthouse/index.html.
The Tinicum Lighthouse, which sits along the shores of the Delaware in Paulsboro, provides a unique view of the Philadelphia skyline and airport and has served as a guide to Delaware River commerce for over 125 years. Call (856) 423-0673.
New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse, and one of the oldest in the nation, is the Absecon Lighthouse, within short walking distance of the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Ascend the 228 steps to find breathtaking views of the city’s skyline and see the original first-order Fresnel Lens, first lit in 1857. There is a replica of the lightkeeper’s dwelling, an educational museum, and a charming gift shop, all in the midst of expansive grounds. See www.abseconlighthouse.com.
Twin Lights is a familiar sight to area residents. It is situated 200 feet above sea level in Highlands, overlooking the Shrewsbury River, Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay, New York skyline, and Atlantic Ocean. It has been used as a navigational aid since 1828. It was used as the primary lighthouse for New York Harbor, considered the best and the brightest light in North America. The current structure, with its castle-like appearance and double towers, was built in 1862, replacing earlier lights that were beginning to deteriorate. Learn more at www.twin-lights.org.
The tall, white Sandy Hook Lighthouse was the fifth lighthouse to be built in America when it was erected in 1764, and is now the oldest standing light tower in the country. Originally called the New York Lighthouse, it is presently maintained by the United States Coast Guard within the Fort Hancock military reservation at Sandy Hook. When built, it stood about 500 feet from the northern end of Sandy Hook; now, due to the action of the water, the lighthouse is about five-eighths of a mile from that point. It has remained lit continuously since March 1776, except for the blackouts of World War II, and has exhibits for the keeper’s quarters plus a gift shop. Go to www.nps.gov/gate.
Finally, there is the Sea Girt Lighthouse, constructed in 1896 to illuminate a dark spot midway between the Navesink and Barnegat Lighthouses, a distance of nearly 40 miles. It is the last live-in lighthouse built on the Atlantic Coast, with the tower attached to the home. More typically, as seen at other New Jersey lighthouses, the keeper’s quarters were separate from the tower. Visit this historic site in person at Ocean Avenue and Beacon Boulevard in Sea Girt, or online at www.seagirtlighthouse.com.