While the state of Georgia has a rich history of lighthouses on its 100 miles of coast, the lighthouses at St. Simons Island and Sapelo Island only tell part of the story when it comes the importance of lighthouses and life saving stations in the United States.
Up and down the east coast, there are historic lighthouses that date back to a time where ship and vessel traffic in the Atlantic Ocean rivaled what we see today on highways and byways like Interstate 95. It’s a shared history among coastal states that includes disaster, bravery and and a growing country in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Come October 15 and 16, it’s the Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey. Take in eleven historic lighthouses, two life-saving stations, and one lighthouse and maritime -themed museum along the New Jersey shore that will open to the public. The annual Lighthouse Challenge allows visitors to experience New Jersey’s remarkable maritime history first-hand by climbing to the top of working lighthouses, visiting the country’s only living history life-saving station, admiring Atlantic Ocean views, and enjoying the beautiful coastal communities that these lighthouses call home.
Participants in the Lighthouse Challenge will earn souvenirs at each site as they compete to visit every one. Proceeds from the Challenge will support the preservation of these treasured landmarks. While this is an event that lighthouse enthusiasts from all over the country look forward to attending, it’s a great getaway where airfare can cost as little at $23 one way from Atlanta. (On Spirit Airlines, with a “Bare Fare” belonging to the Fare Club)
During Challenge weekend, most of the museums and lighthouses are open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. There also are unforgettable nighttime climbs of the lighthouses at Absecon, Cape May, Tinicum, and Tuckerton on Saturday from 6-8 p.m.
A complete list of hours of operation and fees is available at www.visitnj.org.
Highlights from the 2016 Lighthouse Challenge include:
U.S. Life Saving Station 30 – 801 Fourth St.; Ocean City
Called Beazeley’s Station until 1883, this is the only U.S. Life Saving Station in New Jersey that was rebuilt in the Service’s distinctive 1882-type design. The last of three stations on the island, it passed into private hands in 1945. It’s the only living history life saving station in the country, Station 30 appears to the visitor as if the life saving team just went out on a rescue. Open throughout the meticulous $1.4-million renovation funded by the City of Ocean City, Station 30 has gathered a unique collection of historic artifacts and recalls the great human effort necessary to rescue shipwreck victims. Its grand reopening is set for January 2017.
Tatham Life Savings Station – 117th St. and 2nd Ave.; Stone Harbor
Established in 1871, Tatham Life Saving Station is the oldest building in Stone Harbor and was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Murals and displays highlight the station’s heritage. Used as a Coast Guard Station from 1915-1945, it now houses the Ludlam American Legion Post 331. Visitors can climb the tower.
Twin Lights of Navesink – 2 Lighthouse Rd.; Highlands
The Twin Lights, which tower 250 feet above Sandy Hook Bay on one of the highest points along the coast, are fitted with the first Fresnel lens in the U.S.; were the site of Guglielmo Marconi’s first practical use of the wireless telegraph in 1899; and used the first lamps fueled by kerosene, in 1883.In 1898, Twin Lights became one of the first electrically lit seacoast lighthouses in the country. Exhibits include lighthouse and lifesaving station artifacts, plus films and slide shows. The views at Twin Lights are marvelous.
Barnegat Lighthouse – State Park 208 Broadway & Long Beach Blvd.; Barnegat Light
Features panoramic views of Long Beach Island, Barnegat Inlet, and Island Beach State Park, trails through one of the state’s last maritime forests, a birding site for water fowl, fishing and scheduled nature walks and talks, and the nearby Barnegat Light Museum.
Absecon Lighthouse – 31 S. Rhode Island Ave.; Atlantic City
Dating back to 1857, the 171-foot Absecon Lighthouse—New Jersey’s tallest—hosts educational programs, weddings, guided tours, events, and more. A recent multi-million-dollar restoration includes a replica of the light keeper’s dwelling, museum, gift shop, and a Fresnel Lens exhibit.
Tucker’s Island Lighthouse – 120 W. Main St., Rte. 9; Tuckerton
A mini town in the form of a 40-acre working maritime village includes 16 restored and replicated buildings, and the Tucker’s Island Lighthouse, a re-creation of the structure that fell into the sea in 1927. Exhibits tell the history of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, Barnegat Bay pirates, and the bay.
Finns Point Rear Range Light – 197 Lighthouse Rd.; Pennsville
A wrought-iron lighthouse, with its unusual open-frame design, was built in 1876 and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Nearby Fort Mott State Park is a 104-acre waterfront park with buildings and gun emplacements from the Spanish-American War.
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse – 111 N. Central Ave.; North Wildwood
A highlight of the “Challenge” known as the “Victorian Lighthouse,” this unique building was designed by Paul J. Pelz, who designed the Library of Congress. A working lighthouse, it also features a museum showcasing the life of a lighthouse keeper in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, plus a gift shop and award-winning English gardens.
Sandy Hook Lighthouse – Entrance off Rt. 36; Sandy Hook Unit Gateway National Recreation Area; Highlands
This National Historic Landmark, the oldest standing lighthouse and the oldest operating lighthouse in the United States, is the only surviving tower of the 11 lighthouses built in the 13 colonies between 1716 and 1771. It dates back to 1764, and has thick walls for protection from cannonballs. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters is now a museum.
Cape May Lighthouse, Cape May Point State Park – 299 Lighthouse Ave. (Rt. 626); Cape May Point
Experience Cape May, but also the Cape May Lighthouse, which was built in 1859. The Cape May Lighthouse is still an aid to navigation. At the top of its 199 steps are spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. There’s an orientation center and shop. On nearby Sunset Boulevard is the recently opened World War II Lookout Tower, part of the Delaware Bay harbor defense system known as Fort Miles.
Lodging options along the way include:
Located in North Wildwood and close to Cape May is the Candlelight Inn. Picture an historic Victorian home turned B&B and seaside inn with all the modern touches The owners, Mike and Wanda, pay attention to every detail and get to know their guests. A homemade three course breakfast is a highlight as is tea and cookies at 5 p.m. each day. The Candlelight Inn is located at 2310 Central Ave. in North Wildwood.
The Northwood Inn B&B in Ocean City for has been run by the Loepers for 26 years. October in Ocean City gives you a chance to explore the Boardwalk and enjoy cool breezes. The Loepers will happily offer recommendations on where to eat and things to do and see. Atlantic City and its offerings are only 15 minutes or so away. The Northwood Inn has free and fast Wi-Fi for the working traveler. Don’t miss the sunsets from the Inn’s rooftop deck. The Northwood Inn is located at 401 Wesley Ave. in Ocean City.