Sea Girt Lighthouse

Sea Girt Lighthouse, history and photos


Sea Girt Lighthouse

Congress authorized $20,000 on March 2, 1889, for establishment of a a lighthouse in the vicinity of Squan Inlet. It would be the last live-in lighthouse to be built on the Atlantic Coast. The site was chosen to be half way between the Barnegat and Navasink lighthouses. Mariners encountered a dangerous blind spot around Sea Girt as they sailed out of range of the Navesink Lighthouse (Twin Lights) and Barnegat Lighthouse (Old Barney). Those lighthouses are more than 45 miles apart, but their beacons could be seen at a distance of only 20-21 miles. Originally the lighouse was to be further south at the Manasquan Inlet, but it was determined that the Sea Girt location was better suited for the lighthouse. The land was purchased July 29, 1895, and was a 100 by 100 foot lot on Wreck Pond. It was 19 miles south of Navasink Twin Lights and 26 miles north of Barnegat Light.

Completed in 1896, the lighthouse was commissioned and the beacon turned on December 10, 1896. The Sea Girt Lighthouse would become the last live-in lighthouse built in the United States. (Living quarters direectly attached to the Lightouse tower)

The lighthouse was first, incorrectly, called Squan Inlet Lighthouse because it was originally to be located at the Squan Inlet, was changed to Sea Girt Lighthouse March 1, 1897.

The brass work for the lamp that stood 60 feet above high water was built at Tompkinsville, Staten Island. The lens was ground in France.

The lighthouse was equipped with a revolving fourth order Fresnel lens. Shaped like a beehive, the lens had six sides, each with a prism. A weight operating like the weight in a grandfather clock dropped through a shaft in the tower from the lens room to the keeper's first-floor office. The descent took 7'/z hours. The weight drove gears that caused the lens to turn. The lens focused the light from a kerosene lamp to a beam that could be seen 15 miles at sea. While the kerosene lamp produced a constant light, it appeared to blink on and off as the light bounced from one prism to the next as the lens slowly turned. Initially the light flashed a red signal once every six seconds. In May 1912 the light source was changed from a kerosene wick lamp to a 35MM. incandescent oil vapor lamp. The light color was changed to white by changing the glass chimney inside the Fresnel lens and one flash every second to produce a brighter, more distinctive light. In November 1924, the light was changed to a 300 watt PS 35 lamp with C-7 filament which increased the candlepower from 11,000 to 100,000.
During World War I there was research done on radio beacons and the radio compass as aids to navigation. In May of 1921, the first radio fog system went into operation. Sea Girt Lighthouse, Ambrose Lightship and Fire Island Lighthouse transmitted radio beams, enabling ships to fix their positions by triangulation - tracking the intersecting beams of the three stations. These were the first installed in the United States. Each station had a unique signal which could be heard for up to 300 miles, even in foul weather. It enables vessels approaching or leaving New York to locate themselves by cross bearings. This was the forerunner of LORAN (long-range radio navigation).

The U.S. Lighthouse Service, which ran America's lighthouses, was absorbed by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939. In World War II, the Coast Guard turned off the beacon at Sea Girt Lighthouse and other lighthouses, so as not to give direction to enemy ships. Keeper Thomas retired in March of 1941. In 1941 or 1942 the Fresnel lens was removed from Sea Girt's tower. The Lighthouse became a Coast Guard Beach Patrol Station. Up to twenty enlisted men and two officers were stationed in the Lighthouse. Coasties stood watch in the tower and patrolled the beaches, searching for enemy ships and saboteurs. They were joined by Army troops who were camped on the lighthouse north lawn. To make room for these men the wall and fireplaces were removed between the kitchen and dining room as was the wall between the two bedrooms on the north side.

In 1945, with the war won, a new light was installed. This was similar to an airport beacon and was mounted on top of the lantern room. It was totally automatic and the Coast Guard decommissioned the Sea Girt Lighthouse.

In 1954 or 1955 the Coast Guard moved the automatic light to a a freestanding, metal tower erected on the lawn northwest of the Lighthouse. In 1956, the federal government sold the lighthouse and property to the Borough of Sea Girt for $11,000 on August 10, 1956.

This Sea Girt Light continued in service under Coast Guard management until 1977. When announcement was made of the intention to shut down the light in June of that year, Mayor Black proposed to move the light into the lantern room where the original light had been. It took five years to do so. Through the efforts of Mayor MacInnes, the tower light was obtained from the Coast Guard and installed in the lantern room in 1982.
For over twenty years the building was used for various civic activities including the civil defense council, the Sea Girt Library, the children's Recreation Committee events, and meeting place for many local clubs or organizations.

Weather, time and heavy use brought the Lighthouse to serious disrepair. The 1980 Borough Council considered sale of the property rather than costly repair.

Concerned citizens rallied to save the only historic building in Sea Girt. In August 1981, the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee Inc. was formed and signed a 25 year lease for the building at $1 per year. That lease has been extended to the year 2056. Over 15 community organizations have regularly supported the restoration. Over 400 individual members have contributed to the project. Friends from other towns have helped. Many have bequeathed generous sums to save the lighthouse. Visitors help with their donations.

Six keepers served at the Sea Girt Lighthouse: 1896 to 1903 -- Abraham Wolf, who earned $1.10 a day, a retired army officer, described as a "convivial soul" by Bill Lake, a later keeper.

1903 to 1910 -- Abram Yates, whose wife Harriet recorded the death of her husband on May 29, 1910. Despite her grief she assumed the duties of the lighthouse keeper for two months (June-July 1910).

1910 to 1917 -- John W. Hawkey, a 38 year veteran of the Lighthouse Service, served until his death.

1917 to 1931 -- William H. Lake, the first of the "modern era" keepers, moved into the lighthouse with his wife and young son, Elvin. They became a part of the growing community. Mrs. Lake served several years as Sea Girt's first councilwoman, was a charter member of the Sea Girt Women's Club and maintained a real estate business. Elvin worked several summers as a lifeguard and later served on the borough council as well as the Sea Girt Fire Company. He died in 1984.

1931 to 1941 -- George Thomas, the last keeper of the lighthouse, had served at the Fire Island Lighthouse as well as Shinnecock light. He and his wife Minnie raised two daughters, Lucy and Alice. They donated memorabilia and accounts of childhood experiences to lighthouses in which they had lived.