The Sea Girt Lighthouse, another Light on the 2021 Lighthouse Challenge, is the next closest lighthouse to Sandy Hook and Navesink Twin Lights on the challenge set for Oc.t 16 and 17 that includes ten land-based lighthouses, a museum and three life saving stations.. Further information on the annual Challenger is available at www.lighthousechallengenj.com
When you look at it, the Sea Girt Lighthouse is a red brick structure with a tower rising 44 feet, a live-in lighthouse with the tower integrated into the living quarters. In the more typical design, to be found at Barnegat and Sandy Hook Lighthouses, the tower is separate from the keeper’s house. The Sea Grit lighthouse was the last lived-in light built on the Atlantic Coast.
Like the Twin Lights in Highlands, the Sea Girt light was equipped with a Fresnel lens, a fourth order lens 30 inches high. This lens was multi-sided, beehive-shaped with a bulls-eye prism that served as a giant magnifying glass in the middle of each side. A weight dropped down a shaft, or channel, causing the lens to revolve on a pedestal. Flame produced by a wick burning kerosene at first, later oil, ,was the source of a constant light. However, to mariners, it appeared to be a light blinking on and off. The light was projected through the first bulls-eye prism, then appeared to go out between prisms, and appeared to flash again as it went through the next bulls-eye prism as the lens slowly turned.
The Sea Girt light played a role in several different newsworthy and historic events during its life. Its first keeper was a fascinating gentleman named Major Abraham Wolf, who manned the light until he was in his 70s. He had been a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, perhaps because he could affect a very believable Southern accent. On one occasion, he was ordered by his command to don a Confederate uniform, was then to a prison camp in Delaware where he mingled among the rebel prisoners chatting and becoming a part of their friendship, thus compiling valuable information on Confederate troop strength, battle plans and other strategies of the South.
Harriet Yates was one of the industry’s few female lighthouse keepers, although she was only in the position two months. She took over the light care when her husband died, and also had her husband Abram’s wake right in the lighthouse.
In 1921, the station became the first land-based station equipped with a radio beacon navigation system, making it safer for mariners to navigate into New York Harbor in poor weather conditions. The transmitter could broadcast to ships at sea by sending radio signals stretched over wires on the lighthouse; transmitters were installed on Ambrose Channel and on Fire Island lights so sea captains who could locate their positions by triangulation of the three signals. When the transmitter was shut down and the towers dismantled in 1928, the transmitter was sent to Barnegat Light so the other two lightships could continue to broadcast the signal..
When the luxury liner Morro Castle went on fire off the New Jersey coast in 1934, the crew fixed their position on the Sea Gir beacon, and as passengers and crew fled the burning ship the beacon served as an assistant directing them to shore where it also served as a first aid station.
By 1939, authority for America’s lighthouses was transferred from the U.S. Lighthouse Service to the U.S. Coast Guard by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When the second World War broke out, the lights were ordered extinguished so as not to give direction to enemy ships. Sea Girt’s Fresnel lens was removed.
During that war, up to 15 Coast Guardsmen were stationed at the Sea Girt Lighthouse sleeping in bunk beds, with Army troops camped on the lawn, standing watch in the tower, scanning the waters for enemy ships and any Allied ships in trouble. Troops and civilians also patrolled the beaches with guard dogs, looking for landed saboteurs.
An automatic light was mounted on the top of the tower in 1945 and the lighthouse was decommissioned. No one was assigned to the lighthouse until 1954 when a metal tower was constructed on a 22X24 feet piece of the lighthouses property and the automatic light was placed in that new tower.
In 1956, the federal government put the lighthouse and surrounding property, excluding the metal tower, up for sale and with the state showing no interest in acquisition, the Borough of Sea Girt purchased the lighthouses for $11,000, using it for more than two decades as the library and community and recreation center.
Twenty-five years later, with the structure dilapidated and in need of costly repairs, it was closed and concerned citizens formed the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee to “save our lighthouse.” The all-volunteer, non-profit committee managed to reach a 25-year agreement with the Borough in 1981, leasing the building for $1 a year, taking full responsibility for the building’s maintenance and preservation of its history. There followed a full restoration of the building and extension of the agreement to 2056.
Today, the lighthouse is in use 200 days a year. Where its beacon comforted and guided generations of mariners, today it preserves and proclaims its fascinating history through publications, special programs and guided tours of the building now filled with exhibits of rare photos and artifacts.