|Sea Girt, NJ|
Description: The section of the New Jersey coast now known as Sea Girt was formerly called Wreck Pond, for the small body of water just 2½ miles north of where Manasquan River empties into the Atlantic. Local Native American tribes, including the Algonquin, Lenni Lenape, Navesinks, and Minnesink, would congregate each August near Wreck Pond to bathe and feast on clams. The white man adopted this tradition called Big Sea Day, and farmers from as far away as twenty miles would camp near the pond for a weekend of unconventional festivities. The gatherings fell out of favor when local hotels attracted sophisticated clientele that frowned on the events.
This stretch of coast was eyed by the Lighthouse Board in the late 1880s as a site for a new lighthouse. In its annual report of 1887, the board explained the need for such a light.
Situated nineteen miles south of Navesink and twenty-six miles north of Barnegat, Sea Girt was an ideal candidate. In addition, Manasquan (Squan) Inlet was considered the best harbor of refuge in the area, which further bolstered the need for a light. Congress agreed with the board’s requested and appropriated the necessary funds in 1889.
A site close to Manasquan Inlet was selected for the lighthouse, but before the transaction was closed the location was deemed unfit for the purpose. Acreage just south of Wreck Pond was examined next, and a deed for the property was signed on July 29, 1895. Work on Sea Girt Lighthouse, known as Squan Inlet Lighthouse until April 1897, was carried out over the next year. The dwelling was an L-shaped, redbrick Victorian structure with an attached tower that rose just above the roofline. A fourth-order Fresnel lens, crafted in France, was placed in the lantern room, and the light was activated on December 10, 1896. The revolving lens produced a flashing red light that filled the dark void between the lights of Navesink and Barnegat. Sea Girt Lighthouse would be the last live-in lighthouse built on the Atlantic Coast, and besides the dwelling, the keeper was provided with a well, a windmill, and an oil house.
The first keeper assigned to Sea Girt was Abraham Wolf, described by a later keeper as a “convivial soul.” This attribute served him well during the Civil War, when, as a Union officer, he would don a grey uniform, and with his best imitation of a southern drawl would go undercover amongst captured Confederate soldiers to learn of the enemy’s positions and battle plans. Keeper Wolf had previously been in charge of Absecon Lighthouse for twenty-three years and retired at Sea Girt in 1902.
The grounds of the station were covered with soil and seeded with grass in 1899, and that same year, a flagstaff was erected, a telephone installed, and a set of signal-code flags was given to the keeper. The following year, a 240-foot-long sand fence was placed seaward of the lighthouse during the winter to reduce the amount of sand that drifted on the station’s lawn.
By 1906, Sea Girt Inlet, the point at which Wreck Pond met the Atlantic, had migrated south and threatened the northeast corner of the lighthouse reservation. Sand bags were stored at the lighthouse in case temporary revetments had to be made, and in 1907, a short pile jetty was built to protect the station.
In May 1921, Sea Girt Lighthouse became the first shore-based station to be outfitted with towers for transmitting a radio signal. The beacon at Sea Girt functioned as part of a network that included the Fire Island and Ambrose Lightships. Francis Collins described this navigational radio system, a precursor of Loran and GPS, in his book Sentinels Along Our Coast.
The Lighthouse Service clearly stated the advantages of the radio signals: “This system should give to the navigator for the first time a means of taking in a fog, or time of low visibility, accurate bearings of invisible lighthouses and light vessels, which he may use in locating or steering his vessels, and he should be able to do this independently as he uses his magnetic compass for bearings on visible objects. When developed and its use extended, radio fog signals and the radio compass will probably be the greatest advance made in a long period in affording protection to vessels in fog and should be the means of avoiding some of the serious marine disasters now due to inability to hear or locate a fog signal under unfavorable conditions.”
Keeper George Thomas started his service at Sea Girt in 1931, having served previously at Fire Island and Shinnecock Lighthouses in New York. When the U.S. entered World War II, the light in the tower was extinguished, and the lens removed. The Coast Guard remodeled the lighthouse to provide quarters for up to twenty of its men. One man with binoculars was always stationed in the tower to watch for U-boat activities, while others took shifts patrolling the beach.
A modern beacon was placed atop the lantern room following the war, and served as the light until it was replaced by a light shown from a metal tower erected on the station’s lawn in 1955. Not wanting to pay for maintenance of the structure, the Coast Guard offered the lighthouse to the State of New Jersey. When the state declined, the Borough Council of Sea Girt informed the General Services Administration of their interest in the property, and Sea Girt Lighthouse was sold to the borough on August 10, 1956 for $11,000. Over the next two decades, the lighthouse served as the Sea Girt Library and a meeting place for various clubs and organizations.
After years of heavy use, the lighthouse was in need of costly repairs. The borough council considered selling the property rather than fund the necessary work, but concerned citizens convinced the council to retain the historic lighthouse. In 1981, Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee Inc. was formed and granted a twenty-five year lease for the cost of $1 per year.
The committee succeeded in raising funds to restore the attractive lighthouse, and it continues to serve not just as an historic attraction, but as a multi-purpose center for the community. Tours are offered to the public on Sundays. School children take educational field trips to the lighthouse, and during an average month, over twenty different events are held at the lighthouse. In 2002, a fourth-order Fresnel lens formerly used in Crowdy Head Lighthouse in Australia was purchased on eBay for $20,000 and is now on display at the Sea Girt Lighthouse. The committee’s untiring efforts have been rewarded with an extension of their lease through 2056.
Keepers: Abraham G. Wolf (1896 – 1902), Abram L. Yates (1902 – 1910), Harriet W. Yates (1910), John L. Hawkey (1910 – 1917), William H. H. Lake, Jr. (1917 – 1931), George J. Thomas (1931 – 1941).
Located at the corner of Beacon Boulevard
and Ocean Avenue in Sea Girt. Sea Girt Lighthouse is open April through November on Sundays between 2 and 4 p.m. Call (732) 974-0514 for additional information.
Sea Girt Lighthouse is open April through November on Sundays between 2 and 4 p.m. Call (732) 974-0514 for additional information.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.