Barnegat Lighthouse Still Going Strong After 160 Years

The Barnegat Lighthouse turned 160 this year and carries plenty of history with it. Here’s the inside story.
“Old Barney” stands on the south side of Barnegat Inlet. (Photos by Gary Beeg Jr/Patch)

BARNEGAT LIGHT, NJ— “Old Barney” looks good for its age of 160 years. The lighthouse is located at the northern tip of Long Beach Island and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. The red top half and white bottom half distinguishes Barnegat Lighthouse from other lighthouses in the state.

According to the NJ Division of Parks and Forestry, the original lighthouse was built in 1835 for $6,000. It was only 40 feet in height with a fixed non-blinking light and originally erected 900 feet away from the water. In 10 years, only 450 feet separated the tower and water. Sailors depended on the lighthouse to avoid the dangerous shoals along the shoreline but the inadequate design did little to prevent shipwrecks.

In 1856, Lieutenant George Gordon Meade of the U.S. Army Bureau of Topographical Engineers devised plans for the current lighthouse, a project that would cost $60,000. On the night of Jan. 1, 1859, the Barnegat Lighthouse was lit for the first time.

The first order Fresnel lens was situated 175 feet above sea level and could be seen for 19 nautical miles. One keeper and two assistants fulfilled three 8-hour shifts per day.

The Barnegat Lighthouse is the second tallest lighthouse in New Jersey behind the Absecon Lighthouse, which stands at 171 feet. The tallest lighthouse in the U.S. is Cape Hatteras in North Carolina at 210 feet.

The 160-year-old lighthouse attracts plenty of visitors.

“This is our first time to Barnegat,” said Mike Pelletier of Florida. “We’re amazed with how close it is to the water.”

According to the NJ Division of Parks and Forestry, the United States Lighthouse Board considered abandoning the structure in favor of a lightship. This was due the encroaching sea and feared collapse of the structure. However, the popularity of the lighthouse saved it and the United States Lighthouse Board erected temporary means to hold back the waters. Later, permanent jetties were constructed after local residents raised $2,000.

In 1926, Barnegat Lighthouse and its surrounding property was transferred from the Federal Government to New Jersey ensuring its preservation for historical purposes. The lighthouse was replaced by the Barnegat Lightship in 1927.

The light was deactivated in 1944 as a Coast Guard lookout tower and given to the state. Barnegat City renamed itself Barnegat Light in 1948 and four years later, the lens was returned to the borough. The Barnegat Lighthouse State Park was officially opened in 1957.

The first-order Fresnel lens was designed by Augustin-Jean Fresnel, a French civil engineer and physicist. It was built in France by Henry Lepaute, a French clockmaker who served both Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III. The lens is 6 feet wide, 12 feet tall and weighs 5 tons.

It was comprised of over 1,000 separate glass prisms and twenty-four bull’s-eye lenses housed within a brass frame. The rotation’s speed and the 24 individual beams of light from the bull’s-eye lenses gave the Barnegat Lighthouse its “characteristic” of one flash every 10 seconds. The lens was rotated once every four minutes. Today, the Fresnel lens is on display at the Barnegat Light Schoolhouse Museum.

“The Barnegat Lighthouse is not only the symbol or landmark for the town of Barnegat Light but also for Long Beach Island and even the state of New Jersey,” said Karen Larson, president of the Barnegat Light Historical Society. “From long ago sailing ships to present day mariners and tourists, its beam has shined on so many millions.”

While the Barnegat Lighthouse remained dark since World War II, in 2008 the nonprofit Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park raised funds to reactivate the lighthouse. On Jan. 1, 2009, the lighthouse shined again 150 years after it was initially lit.

Money was raised at the local level with a contribution from the Barnegat Light Borough Fraternal Order of Police Local Lodge No. 5. The lighthouse was given a newer, stronger light and the windows were replaced.

“The lighthouse is just beautiful,” said vacationer Tom Goody. It certainly is after 160 years.

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