I am what is known as a lighthouse aficionado (and there are many of us) in that I love to read about and visit lighthouses whenever I can. I view lighthouses as lonely, romantic beacons in the night guiding ships off the shores so they don’t sink. Here in New Jersey we have 11 land based lighthouses along the Jersey shore one of which is Barnegat Light. Last week-end the N.J Lighthouse Association sponsored their annual Lighthouse Challenge where they open all the lighthouses to the public and the idea is to visit all of them and collect a token from each one which makes for a nice souvenir and all contestants are eligible for a drawing in which one person wins a $1000 in prizes. The challenge is over a two day period and people from all over the state and country attend. We’ve only attended one and that was only on one day which was very nice and you meet some very nice people.
This past Sunday my wife Judy and I paid a visit to my friend of 40 years who lives in South Jersey about two hours away from us and not far from the light so we decided to make a day of it and visit the famous lighthouse. I’ve been there before a few years ago where I didn’t climb it, but this time I did and it is quite a work-out with 217 steps. This past summer I climbed the Cape May Lighthouse and that has 199 steps. This is much higher and took a lot out of me since I’m not in shape and older at age 67. Fortunately there were landings at various spots to stop and rest with windows looking out and information about the light and keeper’s duties. At each landing they have signs that tell you how many steps you just climbed and how many more you have to go to make it to the top. The light is 172 feet above sea level and you get quite a view from on top on a clear day. Since I get dizzy at tall heights I took a few pics from inside looking out even though they have bars all around as does Cape May light so you don’t fall or throw things off.
The light is located on beautiful grounds and there are walkways to go fishing off of as well as picnic areas and nature walks with all kinds of shrubbery and flowers. People who visit lighthouses are usually very friendly and easy to talk to and I encountered several in my climb there. I explained to one family that the keeper’s job was very a hard job as they had to climb these stairs several times a day with a can of kerosene in one hand and whale oil in the other and many of the keepers lasted 30 and 40 years.. The father in the family humourously replied to me “That’s because they were younger, stronger and more in shape than us. Imagine if they got to the top and said ‘Ohhh I left the matches down there.’ :D. Needless to say we both laughed.
According to a brochure I picked up from there : In 1834 the U.S. Congress appropriated $6000 to establish a lighthouse at Barnegat Inlet. The lighthouse was completed and put into service in July of 1835. At only 40 feet tall and a non- blinking light the first lighthouse in Barnegat Inlet was a miserable failure doing little to reduce the number of shipwrecks. In 1856 guided by recommendations from then Lt. George G. Meade of the U.S. Army Bureau of Topographical Engineers, Congress appropriated another $60,000 to construct a first class light at Barnegat.
A twelve-inch chunk of metal fell off the lighthouse in 1988, prompting state officials to close the tower to the public. Sidney Rothman, a local resident and unofficial keeper of the lighthouse, pushed for the tower to be restored and reopened.
Over the next two-and-a-half years, $660,000 in grants was raised to repair the masonry, brick, and stone portions of the lighthouse, replace cast-iron sections of the gallery, and install a protective grillwork around the gallery’s railing. The tower was reopened to the public in June 1991. While the tower was receiving attention, a new jetty was also built near the lighthouse.
Barnegat Lighthouse will always be endangered as long as it remains so close to the inlet, but if the local community and visitors continue to take interest in the historic tower, embattled Old Barney will likely survive another war or two – just like its maker, General George Meade.
In late 2008, it was announced that a new beacon atop the tower would shine forth at dusk on January 1, 2009, 150 years since the lighthouse was first activated.
I have included several really terrific links you should check out below about “Old Barney” that inclide some great pics and also included several pics I took. The first two here are pics taken from the internet and the rest are mine. If you ever get a chance to visit “Old Barney” by all means do it. Even if you don’t climb it the scenery and light itself make for fantastic pictures.