ANNUAL LIGHTHOUSE MEETING
REVIEWS COMPLETED PROJECTS, ELECT OFFICERS,
HISTORIAN GIVES CIVIL WAR PRESENTATION
Sea Girt Lighthouse “is in good order and busy with tours and special events that help to preserve its rich history,” said Marie Muhler, outgoing president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, addressing some 50 committee members at the recent SGLCC annual meeting at the lighthouse.
The 114-year-old landmark is one of only 11 surviving lighthouses in New Jersey open to the public. A century ago, there were some 40 lighthouses and several lightships in operation, guiding ships and their crews along New Jersey’s 130-mile coast.
Maintaining Sea Girt Lighthouse is a constant challenge that the lighthouse committee is committed to meet. Over the past 12 months, numerous repairs and scheduled maintenance have been successfully completed, noted Mrs. Muhler in her last State of the Lighthouse Report.
A copper gutter replaced one damaged in a Nor’easter. A new lightning rod system on the tower and roof was installed. Slate steps leading to the west lawn were built. And leaky windows were replaced with storm-proof windows in the room where the Fresnel lens is displayed.
During the same period, guided tours, special events and scheduled meetings attracted several thousand people to the lighthouse, which is use some 200 days a year. Meanwhile there are some 450 members of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, the volunteer organization that runs the lighthouse.
Lighthouse Keeper Tradition
“The building is sound and the history secure due to the financial support of our members and the donation of time by our many members who guide visitors on Sundays tours and help with other projects,” said Mrs. Muhler. “They are the keepers of the light in the long and honored tradition of our original lighthouse keepers. I thank our generous members and encourage others to join us in preserving history.”
Mrs. Muhler also announced the launch of this website as a way to enhance communications with members and others interested in Sea Girt Lighthouse. The website is the online place to go for lighthouse news, profiles, listings of upcoming events and photos. It was designed by trustee Bill Mountford, who is the great-grandson of William H.H. Lake, Sea Girt Lighthouse’s longest-serving keeper (1917-31).
The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, a tax-exempt, non-profit volunteer organization, was formed in 1981 by local residents to “save our lighthouse,” which was then in disrepair and at risk of being sold. The group, which rents the property from the Borough of Sea Girt for $1 a year, is responsible for not only maintaining the building and preserving its history but also raising the funds necessary to continue these efforts.
SGLCC is entirely responsible for covering the cost of repairs, ongoing maintenance and operating expenses. The funds needed come out of the lighthouse endowment, carefully invested, that has been built up over the decades through membership dues, donations, bequests and fundraising efforts.
With the conclusion of her report, Mrs. Muhler had completed her last assignment in her two-year term as president. She then introduced Sea Girt Mayor Mark E. Clemmensen, an honorary trustee of the lighthouse. The mayor is a retired lieutenant colonel in the National Guard who had served as superintendent of the National Guard Training Center at Camp Sea Girt. He spoke of the U.S. military tradition of challenge coins – medallions given to troops in recognition of a mission successfully completed. Mayor Clemmensen then presented Mrs. Muhler with a challenge coin for her lighthouse leadership and contributions to the community and state.
New Officers Elected
Trustee Kathryn Matthews, chair of the nominating committee, presented the slate of officers, who were elected to two-year terms by unanimous vote of the members present. The officers are Jerry Hayward, president; Virginia Zientek, vice-president; Walter Jensen, treasurer; Debby Vincent, recording secretary; and Colette Casey, corresponding secretary. After the swearing in, Mrs. Muhler passed the lighthouse gavel to Mr. Hayward, who continued the meeting. Mrs. Muhler remains a trustee on the SGLCC board.
Mr. Hayward thanked the membership for their support and said he is honored to serve as president of a vibrant organization whose members are so involved in the ongoing effort to maintain the historic treasure. He noted the many people who come together, helping in different ways, to insure the preservation of the building and its rich history. As an example, he cited the docents who lead the Sunday tours, discussing the lighthouse story with visitors, who leave with expanded knowledge and appreciation of Sea Girt Lighthouse that they will hopefully pass it on.
New Jerseyans in the Civil War
Trustee Bill Dunn introduced the featured speaker, local historian and author Joseph G. Bilby. He is the editor of the just published book New Jersey Goes to War: Biographies of 150 New Jerseyans Caught Up in the Struggle of the Civil War.
Mr. Dunn noted the topic was an appropriate one for Sea Girt Lighthouse because the first keeper here, Abraham Wolf (1896-1903), had been a major in the Union Army and a spy during the Civil War. While a Northerner, Wolf could mimic a convincing southern accent. His commanding officer assigned Wolf to dress up in a Confederate uniform and mingle among captured Confederate soldiers, being held prisoner at Fort Delaware, on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. Speaking in his affected southern drawl, Wolf gained valuable information from the Confederates on their troop strength, encampments and battle plans.
While Major Wolf is not mentioned in the new book, there are two colorful characters profiled who did have ties to Sea Girt. William J. Sewell, an immigrant from Ireland, rose from captain to general on the battlefield. In 1885, then a general in the National Guard, Sewell selected Sea Girt as the location for a permanent National Guard camp.
Sergeant James Madison Drake rose to first lieutenant and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in battle at Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia in 1864. After the war, he was promoted to colonel in the New Jersey National Guard. While he eventually resigned from the Guard, he made sure to first lobby the New Jersey Legislature to make him a brevet or honorary brigadier general. He later rejoined the National Guard as a captain but wore his honorary general’s rank, according to Mr. Bilby, who showed a photo of Drake and his Veteran Zouave Drill Team on parade at Camp Sea Girt in 1908.
2010 Limited Edition Lighthouse Print
Before adjourning the meeting, Mr. Hayward called up trustee Robert Varcoe. Together they unveiled a limited edition print of the 2010 photo poster of Sea Girt Lighthouse, photographed and designed by Mr. Varcoe. (See related story for details).
Following the annual meeting, a reception was on the first floor. Members and guests enjoyed refreshments and conversation.