Sandy Hook Lighthouse
Jul 02, 2018

Sandy Hook Lighthouse

By Lori Draz

Sandy Hook Lighthouse

As beach lovers head back to the seaside, this Historic Havens turns its focus to a real beacon of history: the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, located in the Fort Hancock section of the Hook. Opened in 1764, it is the oldest lighthouse in the nation and is still in operation. It may not be as tall as some others that followed, but it didn’t need to be at that time, for Sandy Hook was once the only light on the America’s shore.

Constructed with a granite known as rubblestone because it was rubble, its 1,000-watt bulb, magnified through the prisms of an oblong Fresnel light, throws a light 12 miles out to sea. This light was only dimmed during the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II.

The lighthouse was once occupied by the British during the Revolutionary War. In fact, on June 19, 1776, Benjamin Tupper, Brigadier General of the U.S. Continental Army, attacked the lighthouse at dawn, firing cannons for an hour. He later wrote this tribute about its construction to George Washington, saying “the walls (were) so firm I could make no impression.” In fact, Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the only one of 11 lighthouses built in the 13 colonies during the Colonial era to stand “the test of time.”

Military history hounds will delight in the rich history of the entire Fort Hancock area, which once served as the first line of defense for the New York Harbor. From the retracting guns of 1890s, to the anti-aircraft nest of World War II, to the Nike Missiles of the Atomic Age, the area now enjoys a more inviting existence as a tourist site.

A fleet of diligent preservationists keep Sandy Hook Lighthouse well maintained. Damages did occur during Hurricane Sandy, but the team quickly repaired the keeper’s cottage, which dates back to the 1880s and is the museum for the lighthouse. The roofing, chimney, copper and masonry all match the era.

The lighthouse does give you that “end of the earth” feeling, along with some spectacular views of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Middlesex and Monmouth counties. These locales, teeming with life, juxtaposed against the peaceful, natural environment, is something everyone should experience.

If you’re a ghost hunter, Sandy Hook Lighthouse has its own legend. It is rumored there was a secret cellar under the main light, which, when opened in 1857, revealed a skeleton sitting at a table in front of a crude fireplace. While there was no cellar under the lighthouse (it is under the keeper’s house) and no skeleton has ever been found, some folks say when the light is just right, they can see the impression of a skeleton keeper still guarding his post.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse is open to the public and tours are available for individuals and groups. The park is open from 5 am to 9 pm daily, except by permit or as noted below. There is a $15 charge per day for beach parking from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Parking at Fort Hancock is always free. Tours of the lighthouses are conducted for free, but you must sign up at the visitor’s center at the base of the lighthouse. It’s also good to call the visitor’s center at 732-872-5970 for hours and tour times.

If the “light goes on” for you and you’d like to learn more, the New Jersey Lighthouse Society (NJLHS) is one of the largest regional lighthouse societies in the United States. The society counts among its membership more than 1,000 people throughout the United States and the world. Their website – njlhs.org – is full of great information about lighthouses currently operating, as well as those that have been lost. Also visit lighthousefriends.com, which has a ton of historic information on lighthouses around the country and upcoming events as well.