Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Oct. 15, 2019

Sandy Hook Lighthouse, near Sandy Hook, Middletown, New Jersey

Built in 1764.


Station Established: 1764
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1764
Operational? YES
Automated? YES 1965
Deactivated: n/a
Foundation Materials: STONE
Tower Shape: OCTAGONAL
Tower Height: 103-feet to the top of the lightning rod
Characteristics: Fixed-white light
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE
Original Lens: 18 LAMPS, 21" REFLECTORS 1842
Foghorn: None

General Information:

The Sandy Hook Light tower is the oldest original tower still standing and in use in the United States.  The light in this tower was lighted for the first time on June 11, 1764.  Originally called the "New York Lighthouse," it was built by Mr. Isaac Conro of New York City with money collected by a group of New York merchants and maintained by tonnage dues of 22 pence per ton paid to the port of New York "By order of an Act of the Colony."  The location of the lighthouse on New Jersey land eventually caused dissension between the two States.  It was one of the 12 lighthouses built by the colonies which, by the act of August 7, 1789, were ceded to the United States.  The new Federal Government agreed to maintain them thereafter.

The lighthouse was described in 1764 as follows: "This House is of an Octagon Figure, having eight equal sides; the Diameter of the Base 29 feet; and at the Top of the Wall 15 Feet.  The Lanthorn is 7 feet high; the Circumference 15 Feet. The whole Construction of the Lanthorn is Iron; the top covered with Copper.  There are 48 Oil Blazes.  The Building from the Surfaces is Nine Stories; the whole from Bottom to Top 103 Feet.

A lot of about 4 acres "at the point of Sandy Hook, in Monmouth County," was ceded to the United States by the State of New Jersey on November 16, 1790, and on March 1, 1804, the State of New Jersey "consented to the purchase of a lot on the north point of Sandy Hook, for the purpose of erecting a beacon." Appropriations for a beacon "to be erected on the north point of Sandy Hook" were made in 1804 ($2,000), 1805 ($6,000), 1807 ($1,200) and 1817 ($1,200).  In 1832 there were two beacons on the Hook, "one on the north point, ranging with the light and buoy of the upper middle; and the westernmost one and light ranging with the buoy on the SW. spit, in both of which are lamps.

In 1852 the Lighthouse Board reported "The tower of Sandy Hook main light was constructed in 1764, under royal charter, of rubblestone, and is now in a good state of preservation.  Neither leaks nor cracks were observed in it.  The mortar appeared to be good, and it was stated that the annual repairs upon this tower amount to a smaller sum than in the towers of any of the minor lights in the New York district.  The illuminating apparatus is composed of 18 21 inch reflectors, and Argand lamps which were fitted new, according to the best information on the subject, in 1842.

The light is a 60,000-candlepower, third-order electric light, fixed white, in a white stone tower, 85 feet above ground and 88 feet above water, visible for 15 miles.


  • 1761: 43 New York merchants petition the Colonial Assembly of New York to erect a lighthouse at Sandy Hook to aid sailors in navigating the narrow curved channel at the tip of Sandy Hook so there would be a safer passage way into New York Harbor.
  • 1762, May 10: 4 acres of land at Sandy Hook was purchased from Robert Hartshorne with money raised in a lottery authorized by the Colonial Assembly of New York.
  • 1763, June 14: A second lottery was held in order to raise funds to build the lighthouse.
  • 1764, June 11: The rubble stone lighthouse built by Isaac Contro of New York City, and originally known as the "New York Lighthouse", was first lit.  This made the light the 5th to be built in the colonies.
  • 1776, March: The lighting apparatus and oil lamps were removed in order to prevent the light aiding British troops.
  • 1776, Spring: The British were able to relight the tower using makeshift lamps and reflectors.
  • 1776, June 1: Americans fire upon the light with cannons in an effort to take out the light now under British control.  After damaging the tower, they were chased off by an armed ship.
  • 1817: Two additional beacons, the Sandy Hook East and the Sandy Hook West, were constructed at Sandy Hook.
  • 1856: A 3rd order Fresnel lens manufactured by the P. Sautter & Co. of Paris, France was installed in the lantern.  This lens is still in use today.
  • 1857: Three assistants were assigned to aid the head keeper who was in charge of all 3 lights at Sandy Hook.
  • By 1863: Extensive repairs including a new edifice, a brick lining inside the tower and new iron steps to replace the old wooden stairs were completed.
  • 1883: A new keepers quarters was built.  The double frame dwelling, which housed the head keeper, his family, and the assistants, still stands today.
  • 1889: Sandy Hook Lighthouse became the first lighthouse in the U.S. to be lit by incandescent lamps.
  • 1964, June 11: The lighthouse is dedicated as a National Historic Landmark on its 200th anniversary.
  • 1996: Ownership of the lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to the National Park Service.2
  • 2002: The lighthouse is a part of the Gateway National Recreational Area. Equipped with a 1000-watt bulb, the light is visible up to 19 miles on a clear day.  The New Jersey Lighthouse Society in conjunction with the National Park Service conducts tours of the tower.

Chronology was researched and written by Diane Hackney.