Barnegat Lighthouse

Nov. 12, 2019

Barnegat Lighthouse, Long Beach Island, Ocean County, New Jersey


Station Established: 1835
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1857
Operational? NO
Automated? YES 1927
Deactivated: 1944
Foundation Materials: GRANITE CRIB
Construction Materials: BRICK/IRON
Tower Shape: CONICAL
Markings/Pattern: RED ABOVE, WHITE BELOW
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE
Original Lens: FIRST ORDER, FRESNEL 1859

Historical Information:

  • The area now known as Barnegat Light sits upon the highest land on Long Beach Island. When the inlet was named by Captain Cornelius May in 1614, the area was graced with cedar and oak trees. The inlet was not popular during the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. The Dutch Barendegat means 'Inlet of the Breakers', and the name aptly describes the strong currents that dominate the area.
  •  After 1750, Cranberry Inlet provided a safer and faster route to the important trading town of Toms River.
  • Cranberry Inlet closed up in 1815, and Barnegat Inlet became more important to trade and travel. A 40 feet tall lighthouse tower was constructed in 1835 to mark the inlet. The light was not very strong, and its steady white beam could not be seen beyond 10 miles. To improve the strength of the beacon, a fourth order Fresnel lens was installed in 1854, but the tower was now in poor shape and plans for a new lighthouse were made.
  • In the 1850s, Lt. General George G. Meade designed a 170 ft. tall tower with two circular brick walls. The interior wall rose straight up and supported the iron stairs leading up to the lens assembly, while the outer wall tapered from 28 feet at its base to 14 feet at the keeper's platform. The lens was to be of the first order, designed by Augustin Fresnel himself. A counterweight system would keep the lens assembly rotating. The signature of Barnegat Light would be one flash every ten seconds.
  •  The tower was completed in 1859, just in time to replace the old lighthouse which had tumbled into the sea due to beach erosion.
  •  In the 1870s the upper part of the lighthouse was painted red while the lower section was colored white. John Brown, who had renamed the Herring House Ashley House, bucked tradition and painted his boardinghouse white to match the bottom half of the lighthouse. Ashley House remained an important part of Brownsville and was operated by different owners until it closed in 1887.
  •  The rough waters at the inlet constantly eroded the beach. Originally, Barnegat Lighthouse was built 900 feet away from the ocean, but ten years after it began operation, there were only 450 feet between the tower and the shore. A large, three-family keeper's house was constructed next to the lighthouse in 1889. By that time, several jetties had been built to slow down the beach erosion, but the problem was so bad that they had little effect. The Oceanic Hotel was moved away from the receding shore to a safer location, and people began to fear that the lighthouse itself was in danger.
  •  The tides slowly wore down the sands at Barnegat Light, the resort became less popular. The trains stopped running to Barnegat City in 1923. A severe storm in 1920 wore the beach away right up to the base of the lighthouse. The keeper's house had to be abandoned and torn down. Barnegat City became a quiet island village, once again enjoying the serenity it had seen in earlier days.
  •  In 1927 the original lens was removed and was replaced by a lightship anchored off the coast of Barnegat light. The original lens is still on display at the Barnegat Lighthouse Historical Society's Museum.
  •  The lighthouse was automated in 1927 but would only remain in service another seventeen years. After World War II, the lighthouse was decommissioned and given to the state of New Jersey.
  •  The Barnegat Lighthouse is shining again, as it was illuminated on January 1, 2009 - exactly 150 years to the day that it was originally lit in 1859. Thanks to the Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse, the nonprofit group dedicated to preserving and promoting the park, funds were raised to purchase a new Coast Guard-approved lens. The new light creates a single beam that can be visible for up to 22 nautical miles.

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