Cape May Lighthouse

July 16, 2019

Cape May Lighthouse, New Jersey 


Location: Cape May Point, on the southernmost point of New Jersey and the northern side of the entrance to Delaware Bay.
Station established: 1823
First lighthouse: a conical tower constructed in 1823 with a stucco exterior. It was lost to erosion.
Second lighthouse: a conical tower constructed in 1847 and demolished around 1859 due to poor construction.
Existing historic lighthouse tower was constructed and first lit in 1859.
Operational? Yes
Automated? Yes, 1946
Deactivated? N/A
Foundation material: surface rock
Construction material: brick
Tower shape: conical
Markings/Pattern: beige tower with red lantern
Relationship to other structures: separate
Tower height: 157 feet
Height of focal plane: 175 feet
Original optic: First Order Fresnel (located at Cape May County Courthouse)
Year original lens installed: 1853
Present optic: DCB-36
Year present lens installed: 1946
Range: 24 nautical miles
Characteristic: White, flashes every 15 seconds
Existing sound building? No
Existing Keeper’s Quarters? Yes.
Other structures: storage building, brick oil house (1893).
Current use: Active aid to navigation.
Owner/Manager: State of New Jersey with lease to Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts
Open to public? Yes

Historical Information:
Existing tower is the third tower to be located on Cape May Point.

First tower:

  • Built in 1823, was 70 feet tall and made of brick and located on a stone foundation.
  • Located west of the present tower at a site presently underwater.
  • Lighthouse was arched at top with a revolving light consisting of 15 lamps. The light flashed to distinguish it from the light at Cape Henlopen, across the bay in Delaware.
  • The first tower was discontinued in 1847.

Second tower:

  • Built in 1847 and located south of the present lighthouse.
  • Lighthouse was 78 feet to the base of the light and 94 feet high to the dome.
  • The light was produced by 15 concave reflectors mounted on a triangle making a full light every minute.
  • Poor construction and maintenance of the second lighthouse lead to the construction of the third lighthouse.
  • The second lighthouse remained standing until 1862 when the top was dismantled. The remaining ten feet of the second lighthouse was capped and used for storage, for an icehouse, and later for a stable. The sea has since claimed the remains of the second tower.
  • Keeper’s quarters constructed in 1847.
  • First Order Fresnel lens was supplied by Henry Lepaute.

Existing tower:

  • Constructed in 1859 after additional land was acquired in 1858.
  •  Tower has a base diameter of 27 feet.
  • Light originally constructed with kerosene wick lamps.
  • In 1860 two keeper’s dwellings were completed. These dwellings were one and a half story structures with three rooms on the first floor and four rooms on the second floor.
  • In 1878 a Funck style lamp was installed.
  • In 1903 a new keeper’s quarters was constructed.
  • In 1910 an incandescent oil vapor lamp was installed.
  • In 1938 electricity was supplied for the light.
  • In 1946 the Fresnel lens was removed and is under the possession of the Cape May County
  •  Historical Museum. A rotating 36-inch aero beacon replaced the Fresnel lens. This produced 350,000 candle-power and had a flash of once every fifteen seconds.
  • In 1964 the grounds were turned over to the State of New Jersey which created the Cape May Point State Park.
  • In 1968 one of the Keeper’s dwellings, which had been converted to a duplex in 1903, was burned in an arson fire. The second Keeper’s dwelling is use for the park.
  • In 1986 the U.S. Coast Guard leased the tower to the state who subleased the lighthouse to the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts.
  • In 1988 the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts opened the lighthouse to the public after restoration.


  • Downes Foster (1850-1876)
  • Samuel Stilwell (1876-?)
  • Harry H. Palmer (1893-1933)

Researched and written by Ed Shaw, a volunteer through the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.

The lighthouse is now operated by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts.  For more information, contact them at:

Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts
1048 Washington Street
P.O. Box 340
Cape May, NJ  08204
(609) 884-5404