When we think of lighthouses in New Jersey, “Old Barney,” the iconic barn red and white light on the state’s license plates, typically is the first one to come to mind. After that, maybe Cape May, Sandy Hook and the Twin Lights of Navesink rate mention. While they might win the beauty contests or stand out as notable landmarks, New Jersey has a few other lights that, other than with the true lighthouse enthusiasts, would ever be on the “most beautiful” list.
These are the metal, skeletal structures that met the need of their locations, guiding ships safely past shallows or bends in the shipping channel. Of practical design with open metal work, they survived storms and tidal surges that might have destroyed other solid building structures. Also, they were less expensive to construct than brick towers. Practical – yes! Beautiful – not so much!
Finns Point Rear Range Light.
Made of wrought Iron, not cast iron, the black-painted Finns Point Rear Range Light was less susceptible to corrosion or stress fracture under the barrage of storms and wind. At a construction cost of $1200 in 1876, it met the need for guidance at the point where the Delaware River to the north and the Delaware Bay to the south meet. Currently about three-quarters of a mile inland in Fort Mott State Park near Pennsville, it has been more of an historic landmark than anything else since 1950 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river and deepened and widened the main channel, making the need for the light obsolete. It served in conjunction with the Finns Point Front Range Light, which is no longer standing.
Finns Point Rear Range Lighthouse is open for limited tours in spring and summer, allowing visitors to climb the 130 steps to the top in the narrow cylindrical stairway, all the while considering the drudgery experienced by the lighthouse keeper climbing those steps with kerosene cans to fuel the lamps before electricity.
Tinicum Rear Range Light
The Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse in Paulsboro, New Jersey is located about 700 feet from the river’s edge, opposite the Philadelphia International Airport.
Constructed in 1880, it is 85 feet tall and has 112 steps to the lantern room with a watch room immediately below. With added terrain height, the light still shines a red signature for over eight miles on the Delaware River from 109 feet above river level. It had a keeper on site until 1945.
The Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse is currently surrounded by softball fields and has been painted a glossy black, different from its prior faded gray. It still stands tall as an active aid to navigation.
At the river’s edge, there is a metal framework supporting two front range lights. And why are there two? Because there were two rear range lights at one point in time - the Tinicum Rear Range, which still functions, and the Fort Mifflin Bar Cut Range, which is no longer in existence.
Conover Beacon and Chapel Hill
Conover Beacon is the third of the New Jersey skeletal lights. Named for the person who owned the property, it was linked to the Chapel Hill Lighthouse, 1.5 miles south. The elevation of the hill, combined with the rooftop light room on the Chapel Hill Lighthouse, allowed a bright light to shine from 224 feet above the water level. An incorrect address on a trusted website and considerable tree cover on an adjacent lot kept us from finding it earlier. A recent attempt brought good results, thanks to a next-door neighbor who allowed us access to his property to get a good view of the recently renovated and expanded lighthouse.
When aligned in days gone by, the two lights provided guidance on the Sandy Hook Bay between the Ambrose Channel and Sandy Hook from Leonardo, New Jersey.
The original Conover Light near the water’s edge was a 55-foot high wooden structure lit in 1856, but in a short time it began to deteriorate. The current 45-foot steel structure, lit in 1941, and in service until being decommissioned, is painted white with a wide red center band, as was the original. Earlier photos from 2006 compared to March of 2020 show the results of considerable neglect and damage. It may not be with us much longer without protection and restoration efforts.
Obviously there are several other American skeletal lights. Most are taller and in more temperate places. They served, or still serve, more as historic landmarks due to the wide use of the Global Positioning System. For some, location is the key, as they are worthy of being sought out.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2020 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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