Barnegat Lighthouse: A Story of Loss and Reform



The very first order Fresnel lens, applied several years ago in Barnegat Lighthouse, is on screen at the Barnegat Gentle Museum. It in fact is topped by fifty percent of the older, fourth get Fresnel lens, which lit the original lighthouse at Barnegat Inlet. (Photograph by Jack Reynolds)
1 of the year’s previous exclusive events is getting position this thirty day period – the Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey. This event, throughout ordinary moments, attracts countless numbers from all about the location to visit Barnegat Lighthouse, Barnegat Mild Museum and Tuckerton Seaport. Nevertheless, the 2020 Problem, like most other these kinds of endeavors, has long gone digital and lasts all month extended. And that is ample of a explanation to glow a gentle on 1 of our shed landmarks and the legacy it remaining behind.
The American lighthouse network saw its commencing among the initial acts of the U.S. Congress in 1789. That human body accredited the development of the United States Lighthouse Institution (USLHE) and federal acquisition of several colonial lighthouses, primarily in and around the waters of Massachusetts. These lighthouses had been the initial American lighted navigational aids that would be important to rising the nation by way of trade, immigration and naval electric power.
Quite a few more lighthouses would be wanted to protected this foreseeable future – 250 to be exact, stretching from Maine to Louisiana and throughout the Good Lakes. This progress would occur gradually at first. In the 1810s, though, a Boston sea captain emerged as the de facto “father” of American lighthouses and oversaw an period of instantly immediate expansion.
To make a extensive tale shorter, Capt. Winslow Lewis scaled up a more compact lamp and reflector procedure then utilized on ships, patented his individual style, and marketed it, many thanks to connections in Massachusetts governing administration and small business, to the USLHE. He also secured an special 7-year contract to source all new lighthouses with his reflectors and conduct any upkeep or repairs. That pact was quickly renewed and would final for 30 years. In the absence of any official standards or far more economical technologies, Lewis experienced a monopoly on lighthouses for a lot of early American historical past.
Astonishingly, by 1834 Barnegat Inlet and its legendarily treacherous shoals still experienced no lighthouse. This locale was a essential level for transatlantic trade and immigration, marking the spot at which numerous ships would very first experience the U.S. coastline and turn north to New York Harbor or south to the Delaware Bay and on to the port of Philadelphia.
The USLHE would shortly remedy this dangerous state of affairs, marketing that exact same 12 months for bidders on a agreement to create a tower on the northern stop of the island of Extended Seashore. A year later, a 40-foot Lewis gentle peeked out from among the tall large dunes of what was then known as Barnegat Seaside.
In spite of his a long time-prolonged romance with the authorities and evident American achievements tale, Lewis’ monopolization of the navigational assist process rather grew to come to be 1 of American marketplace and governing administration contracting’s 1st cautionary tales.
Cat Island Mild in Mississippi, constructed by Winslow Lewis in 1827, is no longer standing, but it is near to what the initial Barnegat Lighthouse looked like, as there is no identified image of the latter. The two lighthouses had the exact development, identical shade and about the exact top. (Provided Photograph)
The wildly lucrative reflector technological innovation was in real truth a crude adaptation ill outfitted for the occupation. Though it was improved than other early 19th-century lighthouse lamp technologies, that did not make it efficient or effective.
Immediately after Lewis’ first contract with the USLHE, for which he only supplied the reflector, he negotiated more duty and income by copying the do the job of lighthouse builders he noticed and wholesaling whale oil. By the 1820s, Lewis was responsible for each factor of American lighthouses.
But he also remained untrained in the science and talent behind all those elements of lighthouse development and operation. Lewis’ charm was in being the least expensive bidder on each individual project, the a person equipped to get the position accomplished the quickest, and the brand title backed by the U.S. authorities.
However, from early on, his absence of expertise marred his accomplishment as a salesman. His lighthouses usually began slipping apart within just a few of yrs of going up. Failing mortar and falling bricks were a typical grievance. But Lewis owned the routine maintenance rights to the properties, and that ensured he noticed ongoing earnings from the towers following the setting up crews experienced left.
It was the reflectors, nonetheless, that ended up a Lewis lighthouse’s Achilles heel and the lasting legacy of his generation among the mariners. His towers simply just weren’t strong sufficient to reliably guideline mariners.
What built matters even worse was with no expectations in location, there was very little reasoning or coordination guiding a lighthouse’s top, mild colour, paint plan or number of reflectors. These types of criteria would come in the 1850s when the full lighthouse network was overhauled and several towers redesigned from the ground up and changed.
For people captains navigating in the Lewis era, the problem was improved than practically nothing, but often complicated and, often, deadly. There was mariner confusion about which lighthouse they were seeking at and mariner anger at the weak illumination when disorders were poor or the vessel was not near ample.
As the decades passed at Barnegat Inlet, in distinct, captains complained bitterly to their underwriters and company bosses about the dangers of the mild guarding all those especially dangerous waters.
New leadership and reform of the USLHE beginning in the 1840s sought to address these problems with lighthouses up and down the American shoreline.
Lewis’ nephew went into the family small business, but in contrast to his uncle, he was a reformer and skilled as an engineer. He contributed to a report calling for drastic motion to fix the ills of his namesake’s lighthouses.
Little ones check out the lens screen at the Barnegat Light Museum on a postcard from the 1960s. (Picture Courtesy of Barnegat Mild Historical Society)
Of the network his uncle had established, the more youthful Lewis concluded it neglected “every healthful regulation calculated to confine the cupidity of contractors in just the bounds of honesty and the country has consequently been encumbered with a family members of 250 mild-residences, all a lot more or significantly less defective, and all crying out for continual repairs.”
European advancements in lighthouse building commenced a great deal earlier than in America, the coronary heart of which was a glass lens know-how designed by August Fresnel in the early 1820s that was far exceptional to the crude and ineffective reflectors.
What the French crafted ended up six orders of lenses, from the small sixth to the gigantic – and most powerful – initially, which could offer any lighthouse’s requires. The final result of this layout amplified and redirected mild through hand-slash prisms that pieced jointly like a puzzle and greater in selection with the buy, the initially getting created up of about 1,000 prisms. The reformers in the USLHE took take note of this new and, by the 1840s, well-verified technologies and undertook a huge creating venture that would last for far more than 20 yrs.
On or about 1854, Barnegat Lighthouse was specified a Band-Help and the outdated Lewis lamp method was taken down. In its location, the tower was outfitted with the greatest Fresnel lens that could in shape, a fourth get, that stood about 3 toes tall. This update was only short term, however.
Designs had been underway for a new replacement, which had previously taken position at lighthouses in Absecon and Cape May well, with a style created by a younger Army Corps of Engineers captain named George Meade. A ultimate conclusion about Barnegat Lighthouse was stalled whilst legislators wrangled and debated above the prices and necessity of a whole substitute.
Two decades later on, in 1856, the countrywide scandal of the tragic Christmas wrecks of the New-York and Tasso on the Barnegat shoals, brought about straight by the weak Lewis lighthouse there, relatively settled the discussion and accelerated the development of a new, much excellent tower.
The point out of the barely 20-year-previous Lewis lighthouse, too, pressured a modify in all those strategies previously in movement. The framework was noted for the sheer selection of bricks lying in the sand all over it, in particular so by the late 1850s. Even far more urgent, in 1857 the lighthouse was dangerously near to the inlet, which had drifted considerably to the south in the many years since the tower was developed.
Whilst the gargantuan new lighthouse was presently rising from the sands nearby in the spring of 1857, the contractor was forced to erect a short-term wooden tower to guard the waters until finally construction was completed. The fourth order Fresnel lens was taken down from the old lighthouse and put atop the non permanent tower. At this time, an great product of the picket lighthouse can be seen at the Interpretive Center in Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.
Absolutely sure sufficient, that drop the highly effective inlet claimed the to start with lighthouse when it fell into the channel. Its ruins continue to be there currently, buried deep beneath the passing boats previously mentioned.
The primary patent drawing of Lewis’ reflector system reveals what the initially light-weight in the first Barnegat Lighthouse appeared like.
A little around a yr later on, the new tower was ready for assistance. The fourth get lens was disassembled and sent to storage and the temporary tower dismantled. That transitional lens, symbolic of the transformation of America’s lighthouse community from 1 of improvisation and profiteering to modernization and professionalism, would spend the upcoming century hidden and overlooked.
The new lighthouse recognized the implementation of a host of improvements to how lighted navigational aids operated in The united states, as well as how mariners could notify them apart day or night. Most essential, though, was the dimensions of the tower and its coronary heart – the 12-foot, 2-ton, 1,000-furthermore-piece to start with purchase Fresnel lens. No extended would a captain be pressured to navigate these waters without having the mild of hope and basic safety from that purple and white tower.
Barnegat Lighthouse’s storied to start with order lens, of system, turned heritage as technologies superior in the 20th century. When it was delivered back to Barnegat Light-weight in 1957 for the 100th anniversary of the design of the tower and the creation of the condition park, it came to the Barnegat Light Museum with a stowaway – the surviving 50 % of the fourth get lens.
Considering that that July day 63 a long time ago, equally lenses have enjoyed retirement at Barnegat Mild beside the waters they guarded and with the recollections of the innumerable life they saved … and could have saved had reform occur faster.
Reilly Platten Sharp is vice president and curator of the Barnegat Light-weight Historical Society and Museum.

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