Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
111 North Central Avenue
North Wildwood, NJ 08260
Mid May through October-Seven days a week: 9:00am-5:00pm
November through mid-May: Thursday-Sunday: 10:00am-1:00pm
*Days and hours may change without notice during these off-season months. Please call ahead to check on updates.
I visited the Hereford Lighthouse Museum recently (See my review on TripAdvisor) and toured the building and grounds. It was three floors of vintage furnishings, artifacts from the nautical era and the items from a working lighthouse, past and present.
There was an interesting display of ship wrecks and their history, the role of lighthouses in New Jersey and their past and an interesting storyboard of the lighthouse keepers and the families that lived there at all stages of the history of the lighthouse.
The Hereford Victorian Lighthouse Museum and Gardens is a working lighthouse as well as a museum. Visitors will learn about the historic structure’s history and get a glimpse into the life of a lighthouse keeper in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Hereford Lighthouse Museum).
Nestled into one of the most scenic settings in the State, the lighthouse overlooks the picturesque Hereford Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. A park surrounding the building overflows with numerous flower gardens that have won many awards. Benches, a gazebo and a seawall observation deck allow visitors to linger and take in all the beauty (Hereford Lighthouse Museum).
There is a gift shop located on the first floor of the lighthouse.
History of the Lighthouse:
Historic and picturesque Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, a beacon of safety and assurance to the 19th century mariners, has become a cherished landmark for residents and visitors of this seashore resort community.
The Lighthouse is situated on the south side of the Hereford Inlet, which leads from the Atlantic Ocean to the famed Intra-Coastal Waterway linking Maine to Florida. First used by the 17th century whalers to haul in and butcher their catches, the Inlets use as a haven to mariners greatly increases as travel and shipping along the coast became more prevalent.
Strong currents and shifting sandbars near the entrance to the Inlet caused frequent groundings and shipwrecks. Because of this, in 1849, a Life Saving Station was constructed along the south bank of the Hereford Inlet. A second, larger station replaced this in 1871, the time of the creation of the United States Life Saving Service. As the use of the Inlet and coastal shipping continued to increase, so did the number of shipwrecks. It became obvious that a Lighthouse was needed to mark the mouth of the Inlet.
On June 10th, 1872, Congress enacted legislation to finance the purchase of land and the construction of a fourth order Lighthouse. The site chosen held a prominent position on the dune area overlooking the approach to the Inlet.
Construction bean on the uninhabited barrier island on November 8, 1873 and was completed on March 30, 1874. This wood frame residential style Lighthouse was designed by the Lighthouse Boards Chief Draftsman, Paul J. Pelz. His Victorian era design is referred to as Swiss Carpenter Gothic and also Stick Style.
Hereford is the only Lighthouse like it on the East Coast although it had five sister lights on the West. Pelz designed Point Fermin, East Brother, Mare Island and Point Hueneme in California and Point Adams in Washington State. All of these were almost identical to Hereford and were built about the same time. Only Point Fermin and East Brother still exist.
Paul Pelz would later garner world wide fame as the designer of the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
On May 11, 1874, a Notice to Mariners formally announced the start of operation of the Light. The fixed white light was located at latitude 39 degrees and longitude 74 degrees, 47 minutes. The tower height is 49 1/2 feet with the light elevation rising to 57 feet above sea level. The light is visible at a distance of 13 nautical miles.
John Marche was the first Lighthouse Keeper. He was in the post less than three months when he drowned when his boat capsized while returning to the mainland. He was replaced by a young man from Cape May Court House, Freeling Hysen Hewitt.
Freeling was a civil war veteran and a former merchant seaman. He would stay on as the keeper of the Light for the next 45 years. Freeling was considered a Pioneer of the island and among his many contributions, held the first formal religious services to occur in the Wildwood’s, in the Lighthouse parlor.
In 1888, a third larger Bibb#2 style Life Style Station was constructed three hundred feet Northwest of the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse Service and the Life Saving Service were both run by the Department of the Treasury but were separate organization. They were, however, both in the business of saving lives. The Lighthouse by warning and the Life Saving Service by rescue.
Hereford stood firm against the onslaught of the winds, rains and tides for 40 years at its original location. A severe storm in August of 1913 significantly damaged the foundation, requiring it to be moved westward 150 feet to where it sits today.
In 1915 the Coast Guard absorbed the duties of the U.S. Life Saving Service. A larger building was needed and in 1939 the modern Roosevelt Style Coast Guard Station was constructed. This Station also had a boathouse and a maintenance garage. These are the white buildings just north of the Lighthouse. 1939 was also the year that the Coast Guard took over control of the Lighthouse Service.
For the next 25 years the Hereford Lighthouse continue in operation. By the early 1960’s the Coast Guard began to automatize many of its many of its lighthouses. In 1964 this was the fate of Hereford when an automatic rotating modern optic was placed on an iron skeletal tower behind the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was closed as was the Coast Guard Station next door. The entire property was transferred to the control of the New Jersey State Marine Police. The Police made use of the Coast Guard Buildings but the Lighthouse was boarded up and left to deteriorate for the next 18 years.
In 1982 through the long and painstaking efforts of Mayor Anthony Catanoso and his wife, Phyllis, a lease was signed Whereby the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection turns over the stewardship of the Lighthouse to the City of North Wildwood.
Restoration of the neglected building was immediately begun. After only ten months of intense work, on July 1, 1983, a portion of the restored building was opened to the public. Hundreds of public spirited citizens who helped raise funds for the restoration and contributed time, talent, energy and materials were on hand to celebrate the official reopening of the historic landmark for public use.
In 1986, the modern automated light was removed from the iron tower and placed in the Lighthouse lantern room making it a fully functional aid to navigation once again.
Efforts were then begun to also create a museum in the Lighthouse. The interior of the building was furnished with period antiques, educational displays and lighthouse memorabilia. The 4th order Fresnel Lens was also restored and placed on display on the 2nd floor of the Lighthouse.
A project to improve the sandy, barren grounds into a park was undertaken by Superintendent of Parks Steve Murray, who designed the Park along with its many garden areas.
Finally an authentic restoration of the entire Lighthouse was begun in 1998 and as with many old, historic structures is always a work in progress. Grants awarded by the New Jersey Historic Trust and the N.J. Department of Transportation have helped finance this work.
The Hereford Lighthouse is listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places. It is also part of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail.
Keepers of The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse:
John Marche: 1874
John Nickerson: 1874
Freeling Hewitt: 1874-1919
William Hedges: 1919-1925
Laura Hedges: 1925-1926
Ferdinand Heizman: 1926-1939
Robert O’Neil: 1939-1942
George Baker: 1945-1955
Newman Bowden: 1955-1959
Bruce Bolon: 1960-1961
Disclaimer: This information was taken from the Hereford Lighthouse History website and I give the museum full credit for this information. Please call ahead before visiting in the off-season to see when the museum is open. It is a fascinating piece of New Jersey history.
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