Lighthouses are very prevalent along the coast of New Jersey. The state has a total of 18 lighthouses, of which 11 are open to the public. They range from the northern most lighthouse – Sandy Hook – all the way down the Atlantic Coast to Cape May Point. Continuing around to the bay, you will find a few more lighthouses until you reach Paulsboro and the Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse. This lighthouse is a mere 15 miles south of Camden and due South across the Delaware River from the Philadelphia Airport.
Here we will explore two lighthouses of the South Jersey shore, both found in Cape May County. Due to its proximity, we’ve also included the Absecon Lighthouse in Atlantic City in our discussion.
Cape May Lighthouse
Location: Cape May Point
Year Built: 1859
Height: 157 feet
This Cape May lighthouse was built in 1859. It is the third documented lighthouse to provide navigational aid to mariners at the southern tip of New Jersey. The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities (MAC) restored the lighthouse in the eighties. Since it reopened in 1988, millions of visitors have climbed its 199 steps to enjoy a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. The lighthouse includes a Visitor’s Orientation Center and a gift Shop.
There is also a museum with live reptiles and nature displays where information on park services is available. Here you can also obtain information on the history of the area and of the World War II Bunker which is located on the beach. The lighthouse is in a State Park. The grounds offer opportunities for nature lovers, including the Hawk Watch platform and well-developed and marked nature trails. Events at the lighthouse include Family Fun days in summer, full moon lighthouse climbs and holiday events.
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
Location: North Wildwood
Year Built: 1874
Height: 57 feet
Number of steps: 69
The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is one of the most unique lighthouses of the South Jersey shore. The lighthouse is on the south side of the Hereford Inlet, which leads from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intra-Coastal Waterway. Strong currents and shifting sandbars caused frequent shipwrecks and groundings as boats attempted to enter the inlet. As a result, in 1874 a new lighthouse was built on a dune area overlooking the approach to the inlet on the then-uninhabited barrier island.
Hereford is a wood frame residential style Lighthouse and is the only one like it on the East Coast. The lighthouse had to be moved 150 to the west, where it sits today, due to a 1913 storm that significantly damaged the foundation. By the early 1960s the Coast Guard began to automatize many of its lighthouses. An automatic rotating modern optic was placed on an iron tower behind the Lighthouse in 1964. The Lighthouse was thereafter closed.
In the 1980s, restoration began on the building and a portion was open to the public. The iron tower was removed and the light was placed back in the lantern room, thus making it a fully functional lighthouse once again. The Friends of the Hereford Lighthouse created a museum on the first floor and became stewards of the lighthouse. Today, the museum is no longer open to the public and the artifacts have been donated to other lighthouse organizations. The Hereford Lighthouse still stands and can be viewed by the outside. It is listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places and is part of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail.
Location: Atlantic City
Year Built: 1857
Height: 171 feet
Number of Steps: 228
The Absecon Lighthouse is not located in Cape May County, however, it is just a short drive up north to Atlantic City. This lighthouse is located at Pacific and Rhode Island Avenues, 11 miles north of Ocean City. Not only is the Absecon Lighthouse New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse, standing at 171 feet tall, but it is also the third tallest in the country. There are 228 steps to the top of the lighthouse. From the top, you can see breathtaking views of the Atlantic City skyline. You can also check out the original first-order Fresnel Lens which was first lit in 1857.
The lighthouse is open all year, with the exception of a 2-week closure around Christmas and New Year’s. Otherwise, it is open most holidays. In addition to being the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey, Absecon is also one of the oldest lighthouses in the country. A recent restoration includes a replica of the Lightkeeper’s dwelling, an educational museum, a gift shop, a Fresnel Lens exhibit in the original Oil House and expansive grounds.
If you have visited the lighthouses of the South Jersey shore, let us know by leaving a comment below!