The first time I saw the large framed photograph hanging behind the teller's counter in the Pennsville, New Jersey, branch of “The Bank,” I knew that it was unusual and unique. Having a longtime interest in lighthouses, I realized that from the angle the photo was taken, the Deepwater Point Range Front Range Lighthouse should be visible in the image. The Deepwater Point Front and Rear Range lighthouses used to mark the shipping channel in the Delaware River between the Bulkhead Bar Range to the south and the Cherry Island Range to the north. Both Lights were located in Salem County, New Jersey. The front light was located in the township of Pennsville, the Rear in Carneys Point. These range lights were first activated on November 15, 1876, and remained in service for over seventy-five years. When the Delaware Memorial Bridge opened in 1951 these beacons were obscured by the bridge's eastern abutment. Because of this, modern automated lights erected on the south side of the bridge replaced them. In October of 1952 they were decommissioned and the lenses were removed from both. In 1956, the structures were demolished.
The photo on the wall is an aerial shot taken facing northeast with the Delaware Memorial Bridge in the foreground, and the DuPont Chambers Works chemical plant site in the background. It is about 4'x3' and many small structures can be seen on the Chambers Works site. I scrutinized the picture from about ten feet away while waiting in line. I followed the eastern shoreline of the river south to the point where it curves into the Deepwater Canal. There, sitting just north of the eastern abutment of the bridge, was the Deepwater Point Front Range Lighthouse. A two story white house with a huge black stripe down the center is kind of hard to miss, if you know what you're looking at. I was sure that this image of the Deepwater Point Front Range Lighthouse was one that was unknown in lighthouse circles. Personally I have seen only four photos of this lighthouse and all of those were taken from ground level near the dwelling.
When I reached the counter I asked the teller about the photo. She said that it had come from the other Pennsville branch that had closed, and that she knew nothing else about it. I asked her if she thought it would be all right if I came in one Saturday to take some pictures of it. She asked with a puzzled look, “You want to take a picture of the picture?” I told her about the lighthouse in the photo and explained the rarity of the image. She said that she didn't think that it would be a problem. I thanked her and said, “Then I'll see you Saturday.”
And that's where the story ends…for a while. “The Bank” opened a branch closer to my place of work and I started doing my banking there. And as time went by, I forgot about the find I made that day. That is, until one fateful payday in October of 2006. I went to this new branch to cash my paycheck only to find that it was closed so that the parking lot could be re-surfaced. I turned around and headed home to Pennsville. I could use my old branch there.
Arriving at the bank I went inside, looked up...the picture was gone! In its place was a large rectangular bright patch on the wall. I asked the teller, “What happened to the picture?” She said, "Oh, hi. The picture? One of the managers felt that it made the bank look old, so he had it taken down. I think is in the back somewhere.” She then added, “We can look if you want.” “Please,” I replied. We walked down the hall; she unlocked the storage room door and pushed it open. The room was long and thin and not well lit, but I could see the picture leaning against the back wall. I moved the debris leaning against it and carried it out into the hallway. I carefully sat the picture down and leaned it up against the wall. The detail was amazing for such an enlarged image. It was bright and sunny the day this picture was taken. Sharp shadows are clearly evident. Many 1950's era cars and trucks can be seen traveling in both directions on the bridge. The area of the lighthouse is clear and distinct. The main structure can be seen along with the adjacent barn, the other outbuildings having been removed by this time. One thing was troubling, though; this artifact had sustained a lot more damage over the past fifty years that was evident from ten feet away. There were liquid stains and scratches, dirt and dust, and what appeared to be the wake of a boat in the Delaware River was actually a large gouge in the surface of the picture. I returned the picture to the storeroom, placing it “face in” against the back wall. I thanked the teller and assured her that I would be back Saturday, camera and tripod in hand.
When I arrived at the bank the following Saturday I took the picture and moved it to the area that had the best lighting. Of course the best lighting was outside, so that's where I set everything up. I took many shots: one of the whole framed image, and several progressively closer shots of the Lighthouse area of the photograph.
Upon inspection of the closest photograph, one can see that the grounds of the lighthouse are well kept. The grass appears to be cut, and there is no visible overgrowth of weeds along the sides of the house or the edges of the driveway. And although this enlarged image is somewhat grainy, the entire structure seems intact. The black paint of the wooden slatted daymark and vertical stripe is clearly visible on the front center of the white painted dwelling. But the one clue that leads me to believe that this photo was taken when the lighthouse was still in active service and occupied is the condition of the barn (garage). This image reveals that the barn/garage door is rolled wide open. Even though it was the early 50s, I don’t think the keeper would stray too far from the grounds without securing the garage door first. Especially since most of the property inside would belong to the U.S. government. And if this photo was taken between the closing of the Lighthouse in 1952 and its destruction in 1956, I would think that all egress to the buildings would be secured to prevent theft and vandalism. One would see the doors and windows boarded up, not wide open. That would mean that the original photograph was taken sometime between the Delaware Memorial Bridge opening in August of 1951 and the lighthouse deactivation in October of 1952. This is, to my knowledge, the only known aerial photograph of the Deepwater Point Front Range Lighthouse. It is a truly rare find.
This story appeared in the
June 2007 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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