I was on Long Beach Island for the afternoon and had wanted to visit the Barnegat Light Museum on my last trip to the island but it was closed for the afternoon. When I checked the site to see if it was open this weekend, I found that it was and since I had to be in Beach Haven that afternoon I made it my first trip.
The museum is now open ‘by appointment only’ in the off season, so I called the number provided and the President of the Museum Board opened the museum up for me and gave me a personal tour. What an interesting little museum packed with information and artifacts.
The Barnegat Light Museum at 501 Central Avenue
The museum is a former one room school house that was built in 1903 and used by island school children until 1954. The building still houses the original heating unit, a coal burning furnace and books of the children’s notes from school that had been handwritten (now typed) of current events and school notes.
The main attraction is the original light, a 1052 prism lens, for the Barnegat Lighthouse on display since 1927. The glass panels and sheer size and beauty of light shows how it was once the beacon for ships along the New Jersey coast. It had been brought to museum after moving around to various places over the years.
The original Barnegat Light for the Lighthouse
Along the walls are all sorts of local artifacts such as dinosaur bones that had been found in the bay and donated to the museum (the president of the museum said today there are certain laws on this), local housewares from families that lived on the island and various types of fishing equipment.
Display cases filled with local artifacts
There is even a mini display of ‘Pound Fishing”, which is a series of poles and nets are used to catch the fisherman’s prey. This small display shows how it is constructed and used to catch the fish.
There is an extensive display of Duck decoys, showing the island’s past and present as a hunting ground for water fowl. The displays come in all colors and types of ducks.
There is an extensive history of the resort hotels that used to be on this part of the island that had been effected by the changing tides of the island. Like the old lighthouse and lighthouse keepers home, one of the hotels just gave way to erosion. This part of the island just keeps shifting.
Hotels disappeared because of shifting tides
There is a picture display of “Sinbad”, stowaway dog during WWII that became famous from stories written about him.
One beautiful benefit of the museum is the beautiful gardens that surround the museum, The Edith Duff Gwinn Gardens. The pathways of flowers and decorative bushes are maintained by the Long Beach Island Garden Club. These wondering paths surround the property and especially elegant looking in the back of the building.
The Edith Duff Gwinn Gardens that surround the museum are maintained by the Long Beach Island Garden Club.
In the off season, you can visit the museum by calling ahead and you can schedule an appointment with the staff of volunteers that work at the museum.
I arranged a trip at the last minute and the president of the museum gave me a personal tour and history of the museum that was so interesting. It was nice to see the museum on a one on one basis.
It is such an interesting piece of Jersey Shore history.
I was able to visit the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on a recent trip to Long Beach and what a beautiful park with wonderful views of the inlet and of the Atlantic Ocean.
In 2020, the lighthouse is closed because of COVID so I will have to wait in the future to climb the stairs which is noted for people who like to explore lighthouses but still you are able to admire the building from the outside.
The Barnegat Lighthouse on the inlet side
There is a walking path through the bush areas of dunes. You need to keep yourself socially distanced at this time as you admire the trees and what is left at this point of the season of flowering plants. It was interesting to read how these species survive the ocean and salt air. It is amazing how these plants can survive the storms and how they keep the beach from eroding.
The Maritime Forest Trail is a 1/5 mile long, self-guided loop through one of the last remnants of maritime forest in New Jersey. The forest, which is dominated by black cherry, sassafras, eastern red cedar and American Holly, which is an important resting and feeding area for migratory birds on their long journey to and from their breeding areas (Park Literature).
It is also the home for migrating birds. There were all sorts of ducks swimming around and there a a bird that looked like a crane who looked like it was getting vain from all the pictures that people were taking of it.
The park has a 1033 foot concrete walkway that the fisherman use and people were sitting along the benches watching people fish and boaters come and go from the inlet. The walkway was a nice place to see the waves crash along the sides of the park.
I just saw a lot of dumb people walking along the wet rocks with waves crashing by which is not smart. Still you got great views of Seaside Park and the Atlantic Ocean from this part of the park. It is fun watching the fisherman casting lines, sharing stories and the fishing boats in the distance go out to sea close to the beach.
On a nice day take the time to walk through the nature trails and the dunes that face the ocean. It is a small but interesting trail with all sorts of native plants and a very nice description that the park gives you about each and their place at the shore. Each has a place with the wild life and the migration patterns for birds on their way to their next home. It shows what an important place that New Jersey serves for wildlife.
I revisited the park in November of 2021 and on a very windy day, the lighthouse was open and I finally made my way to the top. It was quite a hike up those narrow stairs on a extremely windy day but I made it to the top in about fifteen minutes. Along the way, there was small landings with sweeping views of the ocean.
Once to the top, there was a landing that surrounded the top of the lighthouse with views of the park and lagoon areas and the surrounding tip of the island. The strong winds prevented me from staying there too long plus there was not much space to move around and you felt like you were caged in but the views were spectacular. I made it down in ten minutes since there were only six other people there.
It was nice of them to finally open the lighthouse.
The History of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park:
Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, located on the northern tip of Long Beach Island along the New Jersey Atlantic coastline, is one of New Jersey’s most recognized landmarks and a veteran of service to seafarers for 68 years. The park is easily accessible from the Garden State Parkway by taking exit 63 and following Route 72 east to Long Beach Boulevard northbound.
Park visitors can picnic, sunbathe, fish, bird watch, climb the historic lighthouse (post COVID), walk the Interpretive Center (post COVID) and enjoy the seashore. Swimming, however is not permitted. Barnegat Lighthouse is included as a maritime site on the New Jersey Heritage Trail Route (Barnegat Lighthouse State Park Pamphlet).
The beauty of the park in the later afternoon
Barnegat Lighthouse stands on the south side of Barnegat Inlet, The inlet was named “Barendegat” or “Breakers Inlet” by early Dutch explorers because of the large cresting waves that made navigation difficult. The site of the lighthouse was considered on of the most important “change of course” points along the eastern seacoast for vessels sailing to New York from Europe. Sailors depended on Barnegat Lighthouse as a navigational aide to assist them in reaching their posts and to avoid the dangerous shoals that extended from the shore.
In 1834, the U.S. Congress appropriated $6,000 to establish a lighthouse as Barnegat Inlet. The lighthouse was completed and placed into service in July of 1835. At only 40 feet tall with a non-blinking light, the first lighthouse at Barnegat Inlet was a miserable failure doing little to reduce the number of shipwrecks. In 1856, guided by recommendations from then Lieutenant George G. Meade of the U.S. Army Bureau of Topographical Engineers, Congress appropriated another $60,000 to construct a “first class light” at Barnegat Inlet.
Lieutenant Meade drew up the plans and Lieutenant W.S. Raynolds supervised the construction of the new lighthouse. On the night of January 1, 1859, the majestic new Barnegat Lighthouse was lit for the first time. Its first order Fresnel lens, at 175 feet above sea level was so powerful that it could be seen for 19 nautical miles.
The lens was made in 1856 by Henri Le Paute of Paris, France from glass produced at the famous furnace at St. Gobian. The beehive-shaped Fresnel lens is six feet in diameter, ten feet high and is formed from over 1,000 separate glass prisms and twenty four bull’s eye lenses mounted in a brass frame. It weighs nearly five tons. Today the lens is on display in the Barnegat Light Historical Museum on Central Avenue and 5th Street in Barnegat Light, New Jersey. For hours of operation, please call the museum at (609) 494-8578.
Turned by a clockwork mechanism, the lens rotated once every four minutes. The speed of the rotation and the 24 individual beams of light from the 24 bull’s eye lens gave Barnegat Lighthouse it’s characteristic” of one flash every ten seconds.
At the turn of the century, due to the encroaching sea and seemingly inevitable collapse, the Lighthouse Board considered abandoning Barnegat Lighthouse and replacing it with a lightship anchored off the coast. The popularity of the lighthouse as a landmark caused the Lighthouse Board to reconsider their plan and to erect temporary measures to hold back the sea. Later, local residents raised two thousand dollars to construct permanent jetties to protect the lighthouse.
In 1926, Barnegat Lighthouse and surrounding property were transferred from the Federal government to the State of New Jersey… to maintain this reservation for historical purposes and for the preservation of the lighthouse tower. The lighthouse was decommissioned and replaced by the Barnegat Lightship in 1927. Barnegat Lighthouse State Park opened to the public in 1957.
A bust of General George G. Meade was unveiled at the dedication ceremony in honor of his distinguished service during the Civil War as the Commanding General of Federal troops at the Battle of Gettysburg and for his role at Barnegat Lighthouse.
The bust of General George G. Meade in front of the lighthouse entrance
Today, the beloved Barnegat Lighthouse is shining again thanks to the Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park who purchased a new lens that casts a single beam visible up to 22 nautical miles. The new light was illuminated at a ceremony on January 1, 2009 exactly 150 years to the day that it was originally lit in 1859 with over 1200 people witnessing the lighthouse becoming an official aid to navigation once again.
The lighthouse and the park in its glory
(This information comes from a combination of the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park pamphlet and website/Wiki-I give them full credit for the information provided).