Saturday, March 13, 2010

Navesink Light, NJ

The Highlands of Navesink overlooks the entrance to New York Bay and, as suggested by its name, is one of the highest points along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Due to its geography, the Highlands has through the years been used in many diverse ways to preside over shipping traffic entering New York Harbor.

During the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), a beacon that served as an early warning system was established on the Highlands near the site of the present lighthouse. The English colonists, fearing an attack by the French, devised the system in 1746 where lighted kegs of oil at night or large balls during the day would be hoisted if enemy ships were spotted entering the harbor. Observers across the bay in New York were to alert the City of New York when the beacon was activated. One night in September of 1746, the beacon was accidentally lit, but no alarm was raised in the city. This failure destroyed confidence in the system and evoked reprimand of the negligent observers in New York.

A lighthouse on Sandy Hook, just four miles north of the Highlands, was established in 1764. While there are some clues that a lighthouse was established at Navesink around this same time, the evidence is inconclusive, and a pair of beacons, built on the highlands in 1828, is considered the first Navesink Lighthouse. Congress appropriated funds for the lights on May 18, 1826, allowing 2 ¾ acres of land to be purchased from Nimrod Woodward for $600. Instead of a single tower, two octagonal ones, constructed of blue split stone and separated by 320 feet, were built on the summit. Charles Smith of Stonington, CT erected the towers and a dwelling, located midway between them, for the cost of $8,440, while David Melville of Newport, RI supplied the necessary lamps and reflectors for $1,850. When Keeper Joseph Doty first lit the Twin Lights of Navesink, the north tower exhibited a fixed, white light and the south tower a flashing, white light.

The twin lights were one of seven such pairings that were used in the United States.
Commodore Matthew C. Perry was dispatched in 1838 to examine the state of lighthouses in England and France and to arrange for the shipment of two Fresnel lenses to the United States: a first-order, fixed lens, and a second-order, revolving lens. In a letter to the chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Stephen Pleasonton, Fifth Auditor of the Treasury and the person responsible for the country’s lighthouses, provided details on the purchase and installation of the lenses at Navesink’s Twin Lights.

$72,941 was appropriated by Congress on June 20, 1860 for a new lighthouse at Navesink, and Joseph Lederle was selected as the architect. Lederle’s plans called for a castle-like structure, built of brownstone, with an octagonal tower on its north end and a square tower, 228 feet away, on the opposite end. A two-story residence for the principal keeper and his first assistant was centered between the two towers, while the living space for the second and third assistant keepers, along with workshops and oil rooms, were located in the wings that attached the towers to the two-story dwelling. Each tower was outfitted with a first-order Fresnel lens capable of producing 8,000 candlepower, making Navesink the most powerful lighthouse in the U.S. at the time.

The seven-ton lens was designed to be used with an electric arc lamp. As no electricity was available at Navesink, a temporary wooden building was built behind the south tower to house a generator. When activated on June 20, 1898, the lens and arc lamp produced a whopping 25,000,000 candlepower, making Navesink the first coastal light to use electricity and, once again, the most powerful beacon in the country. The revolving lens produced one flash every five seconds that could be seen from over twenty-two miles at sea. The reflection of the light off clouds was reportedly seen at a distance of seventy-five miles.

Residents living near Navesink didn’t have the same admiration for the piercing beacon as the Lighthouse Service did. Neighbors complained that after the new light was installed, they could not sleep, their chickens wouldn’t lay eggs, and their cows refused to give milk. Panels were soon placed on the landward side of the south tower’s lantern room to placate the locals and pacify their animals. The powerful light affected the lives of the keepers as well, as they had to wear special goggles, similar to those worn by welders, when working near the light to protect their eyes.

Navesink’s powerful light was active for just a few years following World War II before it was extinguished for good in 1949. A minor optic was installed outside the lantern room at that time. Rockette retired from his new employer, the Coast Guard, in 1951 but was permitted to stay in the lighthouse until it was closed for good the following year. The large lens was dismantled and shipped to the Boston Museum of Science, which placed it on exhibit.

The Borough of Highlands received ownership of the Twin Lights in 1954 after the property was declared surplus. Unable to maintain the lighthouse and grounds, the small community passed control of the site to the State of New Jersey in 1962. The State Park Service, Twin Lights Historical Society and Rumson Garden Club managed to raise nearly one million dollars to fund the renovation of the lighthouse and establishment of a museum in several rooms near the north tower.

Today, the thousands of visitors that come to see one of the country’s most unique lighthouses can climb the north tower, where a sixth-order Fresnel lens is in use, for a spectacular panoramic view of the area. The bivalve lens was purchased for $5,000 and returned to Navesink in 1979. This important piece of the station’s history is prominently displayed in the brick generator building, which at one time fed power to the impressive lens.

Location: Located in Highlands, in the northeast corner of New Jersey.

Latitude: 40.39624

Longitude: -73.98572


"The Twin Lights of Navesink," Kim M. Ruth, The Keeper’s Log, Fall, 1991

1 comment:

  1. Great post about the Navesink light and its history. I'll finally get a chance to check it out in a couple of weeks as I'm doing a tour of New Jersey lights and I'm particularly looking forward to the Navesink one.