The Barnegat Lighthouse: 172 Feet & 160 Years Of History

Photo by Jennifer Peacock

  BARNEGAT LIGHT – While it may not be the tallest or oldest landmark of its kind, the Barnegat Lighthouse has managed to stand the test of time as it celebrates its 160th anniversary this year.

  Located on the northernmost tip of Long Beach Island, the lighthouse was once regarded as the one of the most crucial “change of course” points for coastal vessels.

  “Vessels bound to and from New York along the New Jersey coastline depended on the Barnegat Lighthouse to avoid the shoals extending from the shoreline. The swift currents, shifting sandbars, and the offshore shoals challenged the skills of even the most experienced sailor,” according to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

  Nicknamed “Ole’ Barney,” it was also focal point of the Barnegat Light Borough, standing 172 feet above the shoreline where the Barnegat Bay and Atlantic Ocean converge.

  What we know now as Barnegat Light was happened upon in 1609 by the English explorer Henry Hudson, according to the Barnegat Light Tourism Coalition. Hudson stamped the land with the name “Barendegat,” meaning ‘Inlet of the Breakers.’ At this point in history, it would still be 250 years before Barendegat would receive its defining feature.

Photo by Kimberly Bosco

  The Friends of the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, a nonprofit organization that now runs the state park, set out a brief timeline of the lighthouse’s evolution since it was constructed in 1857:

  Designed and commissioned by General George Meade, the Barnegat Lighthouse was lit for the first time on January 1, 1859 with approximately 200 spectators in attendance. General Meade played a major role in the historic Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War in 1863, clashing with the Confederates led by General Robert E. Lee, according to the US National Park Service.

  Fast forward 30 years, the lighthouse received a new lightkeeper’s house for the lightkeeper, two assistants and their families in 1889.

  1926: The land the lighthouse resides on is now under the ownership of the State of New Jersey. Plans are made to extinguish the light.

  1927: The lens is removed from the lighthouse and a lighthouse ship is anchored eight miles offshore to replace the lighthouse as a navigational aid.

  Between 1940 and 1944, the lighthouse is used as a lookout tower for enemy ships before it is decommissioned as a Coast Guard facility.

  “The Coast Guard, recreational boaters and sports fisherman also use the Inlet that sits in the shadow of the current Barnegat Lighthouse that served as a beacon to seafarers from 1857 until just after World War II,” according to the Barnegat Light Tourism Coalition.

  From 1944 to 2009, the Barnegat Lighthouse remained dark.

  Meanwhile, the state regained ownership of the lighthouse in 1946 and over a decade later, it is officially dubbed a state park in 1957.

Photo by Kimberly Bosco

  It isn’t until 2007, when the Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park is chartered, that the park is reinvigorated.

  In 2008, the Friends hosted a 150th celebration gala in preparation for the re-lighting of the lighthouse. A whopping 8,000 people were in attendance.

  On January 1, 2009, the Barnegat Lighthouse was relit.

  Over the past century, the light became an essential facet of life on the northern end of the island, which was once known as Barnegat City. In 1904, Barnegat City seceded from Long Beach Township, becoming a borough in itself. It was later coined Barnegat Light in 1948, in homage to the structure, according to the borough.

  Now, it stands as a historical landmark visited by tourists and locals year round. As a state park, the area now features a lush nature trail through the maritime forest, a Visitor Center, an outdoor picnic area and gazebo, which was constructed in 2016.

  The area is open to everyone, whether it is to provide a beautiful and epic background to a wedding photo shoot or simply a place of respite for locals.

  The Barnegat Lighthouse sees thousands of visitors each year, especially during the summer months. Some like the view, and some like the adventure of climbing the 217 steps to the top.

  Since taking over in 2007 in order to promote and preserve the area, the Friends of the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park have completed the following:

  • Purchased and installed 22-mile Coast Guard approved beacon
  • Replaced the Lantern Room’s Windows
  • Relit the Barnegat Lighthouse as an official navigational aid
  • Purchased a computer and portable PA system for lecture series
  • Supplied the Visitor Center with energy efficient bulbs
  • Provided a new TV and DVD for educational presentations
  • Added 10 new picnic tables to the park
  • Purchased and installed a new closed circuit TV and Intercom system in the lighthouse for increased security
  • Beautified the Park with the new landscaping and sprinkler system in the front of the Visitor Center
Photo by Kimberly Bosco

  According to the NJDEP, the Coast Guard approved beacon “creates a single beam that can be visible for up to 22 nautical miles.” While the original lens was removed in 1927, you can still get a look at it on display at the Barnegat Lighthouse Historical Society’s Museum.

  The Barnegat Lighthouse State Park is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weather permitting, from Memorial Day through Labor Day for a fee of $3 per person. Children ages 6 to 11 are $1 and children ages 5 and under are free and must be accompanied by an adult.

  The Friends also host a series of special events including Lighthouse Night Climbs, concerts, and lecture series of topics of interest. The next Lighthouse Night Climb will be held on August 17, 7-9 p.m. at the park.

  On August 7, National Lighthouse Day, there will be a host of special activities for kids at the park.