|Finns Point Range, NJ|
Description: Soon after the 1638 landing of Finnish colonists near the present site of Wilmington, Delaware, small groups of settlers crossed over to the east bank of the Delaware River, where the land was thought to be more fertile, and established farms. One group selected land near the sweeping turn in the Delaware River, and this area remains known to this day as Finns Point.
By an act of Congress in 1875, $55,000 was set apart for two pairs of range lights to help vessels transition from the Delaware Bay into the Delaware River. The Port Penn Range, located in Delaware, would guide traffic along the shipping channel from Ship John Shoal to Reedy Island, while the Finns Point Range would help vessels continue up the river, passing between Reedy Island and Baker Shoal.
The illuminating apparatus was a fourth-order range lens manufactured by Barbier & Fenestre in Paris, which focused the light from a fourth-order Funk Heap lamp with one wick. A weight, suspended from the lantern room, powered an eclipser that raised and lowered a cylindrical shade around the light to produce two seconds of light followed by one second of darkness. The keeper was required to wind the weight every six and a half hours to keep the eclipser functioning.
Three acres of land, located roughly one and a half miles inland from the front light, were purchased from Joshua and Mary Dickinson on April 20, 1876 as the site for the rear range light. To provide a focal plane higher than that of the front light, the project plans called for a tall, wrought iron tower to be used for displaying the rear light. The Kellogg Bridge Company of Buffalo was contracted to manufacture the components of this wrought iron tower, which were then transported to Salem, New Jersey by railcar. From Salem, teams of mules pulled large wagons loaded with pieces of the iron tower to the construction site.
The tower was described in the Description of Lighthouse Sites of the Fourth Lighthouse District as being “94 feet 8 and one half inches high from base to the focal plane. It is of wrought-iron, braced and supported by beams and tie-rods; the shell of the tower is of one quarter inch sheets of iron, riveted together, with the necessary openings for windows; it is 8 feet in diameter; and lined on the inside with vertical tongue-and-grooved boards; it encloses a cast-iron spiral stairway leading to lantern and watch-room. The posts supporting the tower are of 9-inch I beams, braced together with 5-inch I beams and rods from one and a half to one inch in diameter. The posts have an inclination of 1 horizontal to 6 vertical; they are held to masonry piers 6 feet deep by bolts, two at each post, attached to a wrought-iron plate under the piers. The tower is entered through a cast-iron vestibule one story in height.”
The supporting posts have a hexagonal foot print, and the number of stairs to the top of the tower is 130: 119 steps in the spiral staircase and 11 steps up a ladder to the lantern room. Each evening, the keeper would climb the tower and light the lamp that stood behind a 24-inch fourth-order range lens also manufactured by Barbier & Fenestre. In addition to displaying the rear light for the Finns Point Range, the tower exhibited a second light in a different direction. Produced by a lens lantern panel and visible over a 30° arc, this light indicated the turning point for vessels transitioning from the New Castle Range to the Deepwater Point Range – two range lights located just up the river. A ruby-colored pane placed in front of this secondary light, made it appear red to mariners.
The final keeper of the rear range light was Milton Duffield, who served from 1916 to June 10, 1933, when the lights were discontinued. At the request of river pilots, the lights were re-established the following season, but automated beacons were installed so no new keepers were hired.
The area surrounding the front range light was prone to flooding during storms, and by 1938 the site was often inundated at high tide. Rather than maintain a dated structure in these marshy conditions, a skeleton tower was built atop a concrete base just offshore from the former lighthouse in about three feet of water. Powered by batteries, the beacon on the new tower was activated on June 9, 1938, and the following year the dwelling, that had formerly housed the front light, was razed.
In 1950, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Delaware River channel serviced by the Finns Point Range to a width of 180 feet and a depth of 40 feet. The range lights were deemed unnecessary as the Reedy Island Range to the south could now cover this wider section of the channel. Finns Point Range Lights were deactivated for good on March 22, 1950.
The tall rear range tower and its accompanying dwelling sat abandoned for years and were often the target of vandalism. Graffiti adorned the bottom portion of the tower, and more than once, arson fires were set in the dwelling. In 1977, the old dwelling, now unsafe, was razed, but not everyone was ready to see the entire Finns Point station lost. Betty Husarik formed a “Save the Lighthouse Committee” in the 1970’s, and soon locals showed interest in moving the lighthouse to a nearby park for its centennial. The project faltered, but the group did succeed in placing the tower on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1978.
In 1981, the committee, armed with the signatures of 1,100 people desirous that the tower be preserved, set off for Washington D.C. by bus to pay Congressman William Hughes a visit. This drive resulted in a contract for $33,600 being signed between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on whose land the tower now stood, and the K&K Painting Company of Baltimore to have the tower repaired, sandblasted, and painted. An open house was held at the tower on October 14, 1984 to honor the determined effort shown by the “Save the Lighthouse Committee” and others in restoring the tower.
Today, there are informational signs displayed at the site. The tower was opened to tours one day a month, but this ended in 2006 due to budget cutbacks. The only other surviving structures from the Finns Point Range Lights is a brick oil house with a terra cotta shingle roof at the front light. The site of the front light is only accessible by boat, but one can drive down the road from the rear tower to Fort Mott State Park to view the area of the Delaware River formerly served by the Finns Point Range Lights. In 2004, a recreation of the keeper's dwelling was completed near the lighthouse to serve as an office for the Supawna Meadows Wildlife Refuge.
After the lighthouse had been closed to the public for several years, the Fish and Wildlife service had the tower refurbished and painted, allowing open houses to resume in 2013.
Located in the Supawna Meadows National
Wildlife Refuge, south of Pennsville. The lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is part of the Supawna Meadows
National Wildlife Refuge. Grounds open, tower open.
The lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is part of the Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Grounds open, tower open.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Dave Sleeper, used by permission.