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 made a special trip to Beach Haven, NJ recently to visit the NJ Maritime Museum which had gotten some interesting write ups online. The museum covers many aspects of the maritime history of Long Beach Island and the surrounding Jersey Shore and the State of New Jersey.
The NJ Maritime Museum in Beach Haven, NJ
Each of the rooms are packed with pictures, artifacts and explanations of all the events. The front room has a lot of information of ship wrecks, both local and from all over the state.
There is a large story board of the 1916 Shark attacks that inspired the book and movie, “Jaws” including the clippings from the paper and pictures of the cemetery where the victims were buried. It was a very detailed display of the incident.
The front section of the museum is chock full of information
In the back room of the first floor the room is dedicated to the 1934 “Morro Castle” luxury liner disaster where incompetence from the crew and staff lead to the burning of the ocean liner on its way back from Havana to New York at the height of the Depression and twenty years after the Titanic Disaster. The displays included menus, artifacts from the ship, witness accounts and a movie on the disaster being shown in a loop.
Natural disasters are covered as well with storms that have reeked havoc to the Jersey Shore over the last hundred years including the recent Hurricane Sandy which was the perfect storm. The pictures show the disaster that have hit Long Beach Island and the rebuilding over the years.
There is a lot of local history with pictures of the all the luxury resorts that used to be on the island and its role in the development of the area as an early resort town through the railroads as well as the history of the local “Women’s Surf Fishing Club” and pictures of the club members over the years.
The second floor is dedicated to the local Coast Guard history and rooms full of artifacts from local shipwrecks and the history of the local maritime history and fishing industry.
The New Jersey Maritime history is in full display here
For such a small museum, the museum is packed with all sorts of interesting information on the New Jersey Shore line.
The History of the NJ Maritime Museum:
On a 1983 episode of the television program “Prime Time”, Jim O’Brien did a segment on New Jersey Shipwreck Diving, interviewing Bob Yates and Deb Whitecraft. During that interview, Deb spoke of her quest for knowledge about different wrecks and New Jersey maritime disasters. She also stated that she had started collecting this information and other items pertaining to New Jersey Maritime History and that she hope to one day have a place to display her collection. On July, 3rd, 2007, Deb’s lifelong ambition came to fruition when the Museum of New Jersey Maritime History opened its doors.
In the years between the program and the museum opening, Deb actively pursued her quest, working with other New Jersey maritime historians and amassing a sizable collection of shipwreck files and artifacts. This collection comprised almost all of the museum’s material when it opened. In the years since it opened, the museum has grown at amazing rate, thanks to the donations and loans from the diving community and the public in general.
The museum has very detailed displays
Although the museum was built entirely with private funds, it is now a registered non-profit entity and deed restricted to remain so. It operates entirely on donations and is staffed by a small group of dedicated volunteers. The museum is open all year long, Friday through Sunday in the off-season and seven days a week during the summer.
(NJ Maritime Website History)
The NJ Maritime Museum Mission:
The Museum of New Jersey Maritime History Inc. is a museum and research facility organized exclusively for educational purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The corporation’s educational purposes include, among other things, providing a facility for the public display of historic maritime artifacts, books and documents. The display of such collections, preserved and exhibited under professional museum standards will encourage maritime research and promote the education of the public about New Jersey’s rich maritime 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.
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 though 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.
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).
Open: July and August Sunday-Saturday 10:00am-4:00pm/June & September Saturday & Sunday 12:00pm-4:00pm. Special Appointments can be made at other times of the year and the museum is open for special events held by the town and for the holidays.
Fee: Adults: $5.00 donation/Children under 12 years old Free
This seasonal museum is a ‘must see’ on Long Beach Island when visiting the town of Beach Haven. It is the perfect rainy day place to visit. The museum covers all aspects of the history of the island from its time when the Native Americans lived and fished here to the coming of the English. The museum shows in pictures and artifacts how the island was developed into a Summer resort retreat catering to middle class and wealthy tourist mostly from Philadelphia.
The Long Beach Island
The artifacts range from arrowheads and fishing equipment that the Native Americans left behind to a recent discovery of an old wooden boat created by the Lenni-Lenape tribe. The museum describes in detail life in the Victorian Age on the island with a series of pictures of the old resort hotels, most of which have burned down over the last 100 years, to artifacts that from this time including china, silver and menus from the hotels. There is also a creation of a Victorian room, a telephone operator office, rail office and a children’s toy display from that time.
The Front Room of the museum
This is an interesting display of the fishing industry on the island as well. There is all sorts of equipment that has been used over the last 100 years and the progress that has been made in the industry. There are exhibits on the whaling industry and its lasting affects on the island. There is also the story of the shifting of the tides and the disappearance of Tucker’s Island, a small island to the south of Long Beach Island that has since disappeared underwater due to the shift in the currents.
Each area of the museum contains interesting pieces of the island’s past and you should take the time to look at each section carefully. For such a small museum, it is packed with interesting facts and a fascinating story of the development of the New Jersey shoreline and the role it is playing in our ever changing life down the shore.
The back room displays of the museum
I stopped in for a recent special event that the Society was having to celebrate Halloween. The museum was having an ‘Ghost Fest-Open House” event for families and what a nice program they had for the kids and their family members that was socially distanced and safe.
There were pony rides, a maze to explore, marshmallow toasting by the fire to make smores, corn hole tossing, games of chance, a gift store for the kids and even a costume parade with the “Jersey Devil” which the kids seemed to get a kick out of when he came out.
The Jersey Devil lead the Halloween Parade
There were also self-guided tours of the museum which were a lot of fun as well as people were coming in and out looking at the holiday displays. It was a nice that the museum had a safe program for the patrons and members of the community.
The Museum was decked out for Halloween
The Long Beach Island Historical Association collects, preserves and interprets the history of Long Beach Island through its educational programs, guest lecturers, walking tours, special events and an ever growing research center. The museum, situated at the center of Beach Haven’s Historic District, showcases 24 exhibits which include over 450 photographs and hundreds of artifacts for the sole purpose of encouraging the public to not only understand out island’s rich history but also to appreciate the people and events who helped in shaping its character (Museum Website).
History of the Museum and Town:
Before the colonial period the native Lenape tribes in the local area travelled in wooden dugout canoes to the island seasonally, to escape the heat, fish, gather clams to eat and shells for jewelry and trade. The early local colonists used the barrier islands much the same, seasonally to fish, whale (semi-permanent campus were established as early as 1690), gather salt hay, bayberry & beach plum and make sea salt.
As the settlers became more established, ports such as Clamtown (later Tuckerton) were established about 1700 on the mainland and roads improved. Cattle were grazed on Tucker’s Island by 1735. Permanent seasonal accommodations were built on the island for men coming to fish and hunt; such as the Philadelphia Company House (started as Horners in 1815, became Bonds from 1851-1909) near Tuckers Island just south of what is now called Holgate and the Mansions of Health in Surf City (1822-1850). There was a “boarding hotel” at Barnegat inlet from about 1820 and the first manned lighthouse was built at the inlet in 1834. A manned lighthouse was built on Tucker’s Island in 1848, where a community, later called Sea Haven was springing up.
The island’s “modern” history begins as the railroads reached south to Toms River and Barnegat; with the Tuckerton Railroad reaching Manahawkin and Tucketon by 1872. The railroad allowed visitors (and goods needed for comfortable living) to reach the shore quickly and also allowed for shore products to be shipped to Philadelphia & New York all year. The first year-round life-saving stations were were established in 1871. Land Development companies laid out Beach Haven in 1872 and Barnegat City (now Barnegat Light) in 1878, with sailboats and steam launches begin used to transfer visitors and goods from mainland railroad to the island. The Parry House, Engleside and later the Baldwin hotels. were built in Beach Haven and the Oceanic & Sunset in Barnegat City.
The Tuckerton & Long Beach Land & Improvement Co. principals were also major stockholders in the Baldwin Locomotive Co., the Tuckerton Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad. After they and their wealthy Philadelphia friends built houses in Beach Haven, the PRR was convinced to build a railroad trestle to LBI which opened in 1886 (abandoned 1935) leading to an extended property boom from the 1880’s-1920’s, especially in Beach Haven. Other smaller communities such as: Spray Beach (1889), Beach Haven Terrace, Brant Beach, Surf City (Inc. in 1899) and Harvey Cedars (Inc. in 1894) were established along the railroad.
Although most of the houses built were still seasonal, the presence of the railroad (and later the 1914 automobile bridge) made permanent business & year round living on the island feasible. Census records show that the island’s permanent population was 33 people in 1880, increasing to 522 in 1910 and 1827 in 1930.
After the Depression of the 1930’s and the Second World War, development resumed in the “Cape Cod” period 1846-1962; assisted by the completion of the Garden State Parkway to Manahawkin in 1954 and the opening of the four-lane causeway (to replace the old two-lane wooden bridge) in 1956. The 1962 storm and early 70’s economic problems temporarily delayed development. By the late 70’s, the island was essentially “built out”. Most recent building boom of the period 1980-2007 consists of teardown/replacement of existing homes.
Because of early erosion in Barnegat City, Surf City and elsewhere and the extensive tear-downs of the 1980’s and 1990’s, the majority of the surviving 19th century and early 20th century structures on LBI are in Beach Haven. The Beach Haven Historic District (running from 5th to Chatsworth, east of Bay Avenue/LBI Boulevard) was created in 1983 in response to the increasing loss of historic structures and conflicting building styles. As of 2012, it is the only historic district on LBI.
(From the Museum website: I give full credit to the Long Beach Island Historical Association Museum for this information)