|East Point, NJ|
Description: On the northern side of Delaware Bay, not too far from the Atlantic Ocean, is found the mouth of the circuitous Maurice River. In 1894, the Lighthouse Board used the following justification for a set of range lights at the entrance to the river.
It is claimed that some 500 sailing vessels are engaged in the oyster trade on the Maurice River during the season, and that they give employment on average to 1500 men; in addition, a number of coasting vessels visit this river, and the establishment of manufacturers at Millville, N.J. is increasing the marine traffic.Half a century before, the Maurice River Lighthouse had been built near the river’s mouth, but the reason for the erection of the earlier lighthouse was seemingly due more to the persistence of an individual than the need of trade or a community. The Maurice River Lighthouse had its name officially changed to East Point Lighthouse in 1912. Mariners had for some time been using the name East Point before the change, likely to avoid confusion with the recently constructed Maurice River Range Lights.
Congressman Brown or Mr. Brick must have had some powerful connections for Pleasonton sent a letter to Henry Hicks, Superintendent of Lights at Wilmington, Delaware on March 10, in which he communicated that $5,000 had been allocated by Congress for a lighthouse on the East Point of Maurice River. Hicks was asked “to cause the best site to be selected and purchase a few acres of land, if it can be had at a reasonable rate.” An elevated, half-acre knoll was selected on marshy East Point and purchased for $250 from its owner, who just happened to be Joshua Brick.
Joshua Brick still wasn’t done with the lighthouse matter, for he sent Pleasonton a letter suggesting that he himself be awarded the contract to build the lighthouse. Pleasonton responded on April 10 saying, “It is my practice to advertise for proposals to build all Light Houses by contract, (unless it be very difficult work requiring an Engineer) and to give the contract to the lowest bidder.” Brick was then invited to submit a proposal when the project was advertised.
The outcome of the bidding was known by June 22, and a Samuel Ellis, with a bid of $1,975, was the lowest bidder. Pleasonton didn’t feel Ellis could accomplish the task for that sum, but was constrained to accept the bid if Ellis was able to post a sufficiently high bond to ensure completion of the lighthouse if he should fail to do so himself. Pleasonton was likely relieved that Ellis was unable to post bond, and the contract was given to Nathan and Samuel Middleton, who had recently completed the second Cape May Lighthouse.
Joshua Brick stepped in one more time and wrote to the Treasury Department asking that an additional story be added to the proposed lighthouse so that its light could be visible above low-lying fog. The patient Pleasonton replied that eight more feet could be added to the lighthouse if the Middletons could accomplish the additional work for a reasonable sum. Brick even offered to contribute the $250 he was paid for his land towards the extra story. The detailed exchange between Pleasonton and Brick is quite unique, and makes one wonder if Brick was trying to serve his own interests or was simply working for the good of the local community.
William W. Yarrington was appointed first keeper of the Maurice River Lighthouse on September 10, 1849, but just two weeks and a day later, he was replaced by Francis Elberson. The following detailed description of the lighthouse at which they served was given in 1878:
The brick oil house located at the station was added in 1900-1901.
Ten keepers lived at East Point Lighthouse over the years, with Linwood Spice, who served from 1905 to 1911, being the last. As was common with lighthouses along the shores of Delaware Bay, the East Point Lighthouse was fitted with an acetylene light that could operate night and day for a couple of weeks on fuel supplied by tanks installed in the lighthouse. Full-time keepers, who had an annual salary of around $500, were no longer needed, and in their stead custodians were allowed to live at the lighthouse. They were required to maintain the grounds and notify the Lighthouse Service if there were any problems with the light. In exchange, they were provided the token salary of $1 each year.
The local inspector knew it would be hard to attract “an intelligent capable custodian” for remote East Point Lighthouse, so he suggested the salary be raised to $120. His request was denied, but capable custodians were still found. One inventive caretaker operated a boat rental business at the lighthouse to supplement his $1 salary. This business was sold to subsequent custodians, until the last custodian vacated the lighthouse in 1945. At that time the business known as East Point Boat Rentals, Inc. was sold to a group of three men for $1,500.
At the outset of World War II, the East Point Light was darkened, and then discontinued altogether. The federal government placed the lighthouse on the auction block in 1955, and after bids had been received, the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game, and Wildlife complained that they had not been offered the lighthouse first. The government was forced to rescind the sale to the highest bidder and transfer the station to the state of New Jersey.
The property was desired by the state not for the lighthouse but for the access to the water at the site. The lighthouse was boarded up to deter vandals, but no maintenance was performed on the structure. A group of concerned citizens formed the Maurice River Historical Society in February of 1971 to save the lighthouse. However, while the group was in negotiations with the state, trespassers started a fire at the lighthouse on July 15, 1971, which destroyed the lantern room, roof, and damaged much of the interior. Undeterred by the now much more difficult task, the society raised funds to rebuild the lantern room and roof and even convinced the Coast Guard to reactivate the lighthouse – an event that occurred on July 2, 1980.
In the 1990s, the historical society received two grants of $184,000, one a Federal ISTEA grant and the second a matching N.J. Historic Trust grant, and over $400,000 of restoration work was performed on the exterior of the lighthouse. Phase two of the project, which will focus on restoring the interior, will start when sufficient funds are obtained. Only after that will the lighthouse be opened to the public more frequently.
On a clear day, the Miah Maull Shoal Lighthouse can be see offshore near the middle of Delaware Bay. The Coast Guard removed the fourth-order lens from Miah Maull in the 1990’s and has promised it to the Maurice River Historical Society once restoration of the interior of the East Point Lighthouse is complete. Being "custodian" of the East Point Lighthouse when the pay is so little has always been a thankless undertaking, but the Maurice River Historical Society is doing a commendable job of watching over the lighthouse.
Located at the mouth of the Maurice River,
near Heislerville. The lighthouse is owned by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Parks and Forestry and is managed by the Maurice River Historical Society. Grounds open, dwelling/tower during tours.
The lighthouse is owned by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Parks and Forestry and is managed by the Maurice River Historical Society. Grounds open, dwelling/tower during tours.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.