The Historic Lighthouse at Sandy Hook, New Jersey


    Sandy Hook, NJ LighthouseThe Sandy Hook, NJ Lighthouse is located at the tip of a low-lying spit known as Sandy Hook, which stretches over four miles into the Atlantic and poses a serious navigational hazard for vessels seeking safe passage to and from New York Harbor.   The lighthouse was built by Isaac Conro, a mason and builder from New York City in 1764.   It is an octagonal tower built from local rubble stone covered with mortar.   The Sandy Hook Lighthouse was the fifth lighthouse to be built in America and today is the oldest, original structure still functioning as a navigational beacon in the United States.   It was first lit on June 11, 1764 and it's silhouette and warm beam of light has been a familiar sight to anglers, mariners and travelers passing in and out of New York harbor for more than 250 years.

    Originally built about 500 feet from the tip of Sandy Hook, it now stands about 1 miles from the point due to the northward expansion of the Hook by ocean currents.   The 103 foot tall tower has a diameter at the base of 29 feet and the lantern house at the top of the light is made of iron with a copper-clad roof.   Originally, the light had 48 oil burning copper and glass lanterns.   In 1856, the light was upgraded with a third order Fresnel lens made by P. Sautter & Co., of Paris, France.   This lens is still in place today.   In 1899, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse became the first lighthouse in the country to be lit by electric lamps.   Today, the light is equipped with a 1,000-Watt incandescent lamp and is visible 19 miles at sea.

    The funds to purchase the land and construct the lighthouse came from the proceeds of a lottery in 1761.   The lottery didn't raise enough money to start construction of the lighthouse and was used to purchase four acres of land at Sandy Hook from the owners, Robert and Esik (Isick) Hartshorne.   A second lottery was conducted in 1763 to raise the remainder of the money needed for construction of the tower and the keeper's house.   In it's early years, the lighthouse was called the New York Lighthouse and for many years, New York City collected a tonnage tax of twenty-two pence per ton in order to help pay for the light's maintenance.

    During the Revolutionary War, Americans put the lighthouse out of operation in March, 1776, so the British could not benefit from it.   However, the British repaired the beacon and despite a second attempt to destroy it by cannon fire, the light has remained lit except during the blackouts of World War II.   When the Revolutionary War was over, the Federal Government was still small enough that President George Washington could take a personal interest in individual lighthouses.   One of Washington's first official duties was to write a letter to the keeper of the Sandy Hook lighthouse directing him to keep the light tended until Congress could provide funds for its upkeep.

    Sandy Hook Light was ceded to the Federal Government in 1789.   In 1823, a lightship, the Sandy Hook, was put into operation, to facilitate shipping.   At a ceremony celebrating its 200th anniversary in 1964, the lighthouse was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark.   While the US Coast Guard still maintains the lighthouse, the National Park Service now owns it and the neighboring Fort Hancock Military Reservation.   Both are now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

    Sandy Hook Lighthouse photograph courtesy of Dawn Paver-Pritchard.