Like the lighthouse that beckons, the town of Barnegat Light is a compelling attraction to visitors and those fortunate enough to live there. There’s something – many things – unique about the historic, scenic, tightly knit community at the far north end of the Island.
Just ask the people who are its proud and loyal fans. They’ll share some common themes, but invariably they’ll add something personal about what Barnegat Light means to them.
“Barnegat Light is unique among the shore towns on LBI,” began John Tennyson, president of the Barnegat Light Taxpayers’ Association. “It is a quiet and peaceful place that residents like, just the way it is. We have four years of survey data that indicate the overall level of satisfaction with the borough is very high. It is also a very caring community as evidenced by the high level of volunteerism with our first responders, museum docents and even the taxpayers association. If you wanted to live someplace special, this is it.”
The Barnegat Light Tourism Coalition was formed to promote tourism and commerce, knowing that so much is offered (see its Facebook page). Here’s how its president, Dan Malay, encapsulated the town’s appeal.
“The moment you enter Barnegat Light, you sense the difference in ‘feel’ in comparison to the rest of LBI. Rich in history and holding tightly to its quaintness, the Barnegat Light community is close knit and proud of their heritage.
“It is a quintessential port town that boasts one of the busiest commercial fishing operations on the East Coast, and all the culture that comes with such standing.
“Another unique characteristic of Barnegat Light that is treasured by its residents and visitors alike is the extremely wide beaches. On the northern end of town, the walk to the beach takes you on an expansive stroll over tall dunes and onto the quiet shores that make Barnegat Light LBI’s treasured little secret,” Malay continued.
“Of course, one cannot speak of Barnegat Light without mention of New Jersey’s largest tourist attraction, the Barnegat Lighthouse. And so, whether it is the unique people, smells, sights and savoir-faire, visitors are sure to be intrigued, and often find themselves considering a permanent move to Barnegat Light, and all the intrigue of a slower pace that comes with it.”
Indeed, the lighthouse and its surrounding Barnegat Lighthouse State Park drew an estimated 560,000 visitors in 2017 alone, said lighthouse staff. About 92,000 of those people went into the lighthouse; the rest found plenty to see from the outside. (For park hours, attractions and drone footage, see the website state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/barnlig.html).
Mayor Kirk O. Larson, a commercial fishing fleet owner whose mother, Marion Larson, co-owns Viking Village commercial dock with Lou and Fran Puskas, describes a community where “pretty much everybody knows everybody.”
“We also have our fishing industry, and we have great beaches. We have great support squads – fire company, first aid, public works. Everybody works together and makes it a great town.”
Larson added, “Where else around do you have a town with fish coming across the dock every day, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars? We also have the tourism, too, and we’re proud of it.”
Viking Village, at 18th Street and the bayfront on Bayview Avenue, is a fascinating place both with its commercial fishing enterprise (see vikingvillage.net to learn more about the industry and Friday summer tours of the dock) and shops in the restored fishermens’ work shacks.
“A visit to Barnegat Light’s Historic Viking Village will take you back in time to the early days of a quaint fishing village. For your pleasure the tiny fishing shacks have been turned into shops with something special for everyone,” says the website vikingvillageshows.com.
At 501 Central Ave. is the Barnegat Light Museum, hosting a treasure trove of maritime and area history. The Barnegat Light Historical Society operates the museum, which is open June through October on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and daily in July and August, same hours. The website is bl-hs.org.
“In Barnegat Light, town history is also our own,” said museum docent Reilly P. Sharp. “We cherish the memories and stories because they often involve our parents and grandparents, cousins and friends. As big as Barnegat Light, and the Island, has become, it’s still a small town at heart, where everybody knows everybody. At the museum, we feel it’s our duty to carry the memories forward to help visitors and recent transplants know what a special place our little town and barrier island truly is.”
The peaceful Edith Duff Gwinn Garden, maintained by the Garden Club of Long Beach Island, is behind the museum and is open for strolling all year.
From the point of view of the beach patrol captain, the “family-like atmosphere” spills over into the camaraderie of the squad.
Scott Caffrey, in his second year as captain of the Barnegat Light Beach Patrol with Don Adams as supervisor, has been a lifeguard for the BLBP for over 30 years.
“What makes BLBP special is that we might not be the highest-paid guards on the Island, but we have generations of lifeguards coming back year after year to work every summer to keep people safe, stay competitive in tournaments, and enjoy the family-like atmosphere that Barnegat Light provides,” Caffrey described.
“We spend a lot of time together as a patrol from our morning meetings, daily workouts, Friday happy hours at Kubel’s and our annual pre-races family-style lifeguard dinner hosted on 15th Street. For all these reasons and more, that is why BLBP is truly the ‘best on the beach.’ We will be open for the 2018 summer season on June 9. We are looking forward to another fun but safe summer.”
To get an even wider picture, the writer asked folks on the Barnegat Light Alumni Facebook page to chime in. Here is a sample of replies.
“Barnegat Light has its own zip code, its own post office,” pointed out Timothy Brindley, a commercial fisherman, property owner and resident for over 50 years. “It also has an open space tax that ensures the town won’t be overbuilt. It has low taxes and a community built on commercial fishing … a real family-oriented town, with its own dog park, skate park, basketball court, playground, gazebo, pavilion, its own boat ramp and docks. Beach badges are free if you are a veteran. The museum was once the one-room schoolhouse; town hall was once the Coast Guard life saving station. I love this town.”
“Barnegat Light is an anchor, a hometown for many and a childhood dream come true,” described Jill Svelling, a daughter of a commercial fisherman. “It’s sturdy from storms and deep-rooted in love and family. … (A)ll that come are welcome, … all that left are missed. … (A)ll that make it wonderful and historic are cherished. … (A)ll that work the ocean and celebrate its bounty are proud. We all stand a little taller when we are in Barnegat Light.”
Joe Graber Jr. said he was proud to have heritage in town that includes knowing and working for several prominent commercial fishing families. His uncle Eugene Gagliardi was commissioned by the state of New Jersey to build a wall and pedestal at the lighthouse. He added a compelling emotional story.
“I had polio as a child. I would ride my bike from Ship Bottom to Barnegat Light every day to fish. I loved it there. Riding my bike home in the afternoon against the afternoon sea breeze made my legs stronger and helped me accomplish many more things in the future. I owe Barnegat Light a lot.”
Carol Spisso grew up in Loveladies, where her grandparents settled in the late 1930s. Barnegat Light beckoned when she reached working age.
“Myself and Higgins cousins started working at Andy’s when Cass Montgomery ran the kitchen. So all the memories as a waitress are still in my heart. Then my Aunt Anne Higgins ran it for awhile. Then we all started to work for TZ and that was a blast. We made lots of friends from Philly as well as BL locals. Such great memories …”
“A day in BL is another day in paradise! It’s small town USA, where people still care, and watch out for one another,” said Carol Devine.
“In the best, worst and very difficult times, we all come together, ready to help each other,” agreed Nancy Kenny Manookian.
“Our volunteer community is strong and dedicated to serving our citizens,” said Cometa Copal. “The Barnegat Light First Aid Squad and Fire Company are both well trained and ready to respond to any emergency,” he said. For sure, the rescue squads have answered calls from the top of the lighthouse, to under the water and ice.
The borough’s official website, barnegatlight.org, sums up so much.
“We are a quaint, family oriented seashore town. We have something to offer to everyone. The Barnegat Lighthouse State Park is a popular destination for climbing the lighthouse, picnicking and fishing. We offer beautiful spacious beaches, excellent surf fishing, bay fishing and crabbing. We offer several recreation areas, including tennis courts, a skate park, dog park and basketball court.
“There are several options for those who like to go fishing or boating. Party boats go out daily for deep sea fishing, charter boats are available for small groups to hire, and for those who like to head out on their own in the bay we have boat liveries that do daily rentals.
“There is a museum that was formerly a one-room schoolhouse that has many items on display including the original lens from the Lighthouse. There are several restaurants and ice cream parlors, as well as antique and gift shops. Viking Village is one of the largest working commercial fishing docks in New Jersey.
“For those who would like to extend your visit to more than a day, there is a variety of accommodations in Barnegat Light. There are motels, bed & breakfasts or house rentals. So, whether Barnegat Light is your permanent home, your favorite vacation destination or you’re a first-time visitor, we hope you find our site helpful and informative.”
– MARIA SCANDALE
Reposted from The Sandpaper