The Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey this year will be held Saturday and Sunday, October 15-16. The challenge is to visit 11 New Jersey lights, including Sea Girt Lighthouse, two life-saving stations and two museums over the two days. The museums in Barnegat and Cape May, as well as Sea Girt Lighthouse and a few other lighthouses have rare Fresnel lenses on display.
This is the 12th year New Jersey lights have had a challenge, the first anywhere in the country that has inspired lighthouse challenges in many other states and Canada.
Points of Light
Participating lights, life-saving stations and museums (north to south and up the Delaware):
- Sandy Hook Lighthouse (built 1764). Fell under British control during the American Revolution. Withstood bombardment by the Continental Army. Oldest U.S. lighthouse still on active duty.
- Navesink Twin Lights (1862). Built on Highlands of Navesink 200 feet above sea level. First Fresnel lens in the U.S. In 1899, Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first ship-to-shore telegraph message to Twin Lights. First order Fresnel lens on display.
- Sea Girt Lighthouse (1896). Built midway between Navesink and Barnegat Lighthouses to illuminate a blind spot. In 1921 Sea Girt was first land station equipped with a radio fog beacon system. A 4th order Fresnel lens is on display.
- Barnegat Lighthouse (1858). Denotes the 40th parallel, a crucial point in transatlantic navigation. Old Barney’s 1st order Fresnel lens now on display at nearby Barnegat Light Museum.
- Tucker’s Island Lighthouse (1868). Collapsed into the sea 1927. In 1999, a replica of the lost lighthouse was built as the centerpiece of Tuckerton Seaport.
- Absecon Lighthouse (1857). Built near Atlantic City to warn mariners of dangerous shoals off Absecon and Brigantine. Black and white stripes of the 171-foot-tall tower distinguish Absecon from the red-and-white striped Barnegat Lighthouse.
- U.S. Life-Saving Station 30 (1885). The U.S. Life-Saving Service was created in 1871. By 1900, there were some 40 life-saving stations along the Jersey coast, including this one in Ocean City on a barrier island 11 miles south of Atlantic City.
- Tatham Life-Saving Station 35 (1895). Located in Cape May County on Seven Mile Island, 2½ miles northeast of Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, Tatham was built on the site of one of the first life-saving stations in the U.S. The Coast Guard operated the station from 1915-48. After its decommissioning, the station was acquired and refurbished by American Legion Post 331, which meets there and whose members preserve the building’s rich history.
- Hereford Inlet Lighthouse (1874). Built in North Wildwood to guide coal carriers and other commercial vessels passing through the inlet. Like Sea Girt, Hereford is a live-in lighthouse – tower attached to the keeper’s residence. Hereford has a 4th order Fresnel lens on display.
- Cape May Lighthouse (1859). Replaced two earlier lights nearby that were destroyed by storms and tides. Current tower’s 1st order Fresnel lens on display at nearby Cape May Museum.
- East Point Lighthouse (1849). At the confluence of Maurice River and Delaware Bay, the lighthouse was built to aid the crews aboard the estimated 500 ships then engaged in oyster fishing and the scores of ships carrying cargo to and from the manufacturing plants in Millville.
- Finns Point Range Light (1877). Not a lighthouse, but a rear-range light, 115-feet tall, along the Delaware River channel. To keep safely within a channel, mariners steered their craft so that beams from a front-range light and the taller rear-range light aligned to produce one beam. If a mariner saw the two beams of light, the ship was sailing outside the channel’s safe area.
- Tinicum Range Light (1880). Rear-range light farther up the Delaware, teamed with a smaller front-range light to guide ships into Camden and Philadelphia.
Step Back in Time
The event is the collaborative effort of the preservationists at each historic site. A few dozen members of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee will work in 3-hour shifts welcoming visitors to this lighthouse that weekend.
Each stop in the Challenge will be staffed by local people who regularly volunteer at their location. They are eager to show visitors what they have preserved and hopeful of getting more people involved in the ongoing challenge of preservation.
Organizers of the event explain: “These majestic beacons have played an important role in New Jersey's history, guarding mariners and protecting our coasts for over a century. Lighthouses serve as a reminder of American ingenuity while honoring the values of safety and heroism. Visit the lighthouses and museums on the Challenge for an opportunity to step back in time and learn more about our state and country's history.”
Accepting the Challenge
Joining the fun is easy. Set your own itinerary and pace. Some go north to south, others south to north, depending on where they live.
Souvenir pamphlets will be available at each participating site for $1. At each stop, stickers will be given to visitors to put in their commemorative pamphlets. In this way, participants can track their progress and document their successful completion of the Challenge.
Among the expected visitors there will no doubt be serious lighthouse buffs identifiable by the passport-like booklets they carry and in which they also collect the official stamps of all the lighthouses they have visited. It’s not unusual for ardent appreciators of lighthouses to have visited 200-300 over the years.
At Sea Girt, visitors will have access to every room in the lighthouse – the keeper’s office, the living quarters, and up the spiral staircase to the lantern room at the very top of the tower. While volunteers will be on hand to answer questions and staff the merchandise table, tours will be self-guided.
Strong Turnout Expected
If last year is any indication, there will be a good turnout. In 2010, more than a thousand people participated in the Lighthouse Challenge. At Sea Girt Lighthouse, volunteers counted 1,098 Challenge participants, plus two dogs.
While the majority last year came from New Jersey, many came from neighboring New York – City, suburbs and upstate – and Pennsylvania, particularly from the Philadelphia area. Still others came from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Texas, as well as Canada and Germany.
On this Challenge weekend, Sea Girt Lighthouse will be open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is no admission fee at Sea Girt Lighthouse, although donations are appreciated. For directions to Sea Girt, click the Directions button in the left column of this website.
All locations will be open from at least 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There will be night climbs offered as well at Absecon, Barnegat, Cape May, Sandy Hook, Tinicum and Tuckerton. Visit the Challenge website (http://www.lighthousechallengenj.org) for directions and additional information. Some charge admission fees; others accept donations.
The lighthouses encourage the public to take advantage of this special weekend to financially support and preserve the maritime history.