|Elbow of Cross Ledge, NJ|
Description: The first lighthouse to mark Cross Ledge was built in the 1870’s near the southern end of the submerged navigational hazard. Years later, the Lighthouse Board decided that maritime traffic would be better served with a lighthouse positioned just over two miles northwest of the original Cross Ledge Lighthouse on an “elbow” of the ledge that protruded toward the main shipping channel. Congress appropriated $75,000 on April 28, 1904, for a lighthouse and fog signal at Elbow of Cross Ledge.
Test borings were made at the selected site for the lighthouse to make sure that the seabed could support the intended caisson foundation. Foundries were invited to submit bids for the cast-iron foundation, but after no satisfactory submissions were received, the project had to be advertised again. The second round of bids were opened on December 18, 1905, resulting in a contract being signed less than two months later. Work on the foundation soon began, and the completed metalwork was delivered to the former lighthouse depot on the Christiana River near Wilmington, Delaware by January of 1907.
To help with construction of the lighthouse, large scows were towed to the site on which a temporary work platform was established. Using the pneumatic process, the bottom edge of the caisson was sunk fifteen feet into the ledge, which lay twenty-four feet below the surface of the bay. Strong currents and rough seas complicated the work, delaying completion of the lighthouse.
A severe storm in September of 1907 caught the workers unprepared for such an event. Much of the working platform was swept away, and at least one workman fell into the bay and drowned. One of the scows at the site was torn loose by the storm. Its sole occupant, a government inspector, was finally rescued two days letter when a lighthouse tender located the missing scow near Maurice River Cove.
When work stopped late in 1907, the caisson had been filled with concrete up to is fluted upper sections. Portholes in theses sections would provide light for the basement of the lighthouse, which would be located within. A temporary, one-story structure, surmounted by a lantern, and a fog bell were placed atop the foundation to mark the incomplete project until work could resume the next year.
A fourth-order Barbier, Benard and Turenne Fresnel lens with four panels was installed in the lantern room. The lens rested atop 19 balls that traveled in a circular “v” groove. The three keepers from the Cross Ledge Lighthouse, Ethan A. Duffield, Julian Bacon, and Harry W. Sheppard, were transferred to the Elbow of Cross Ledge Lighthouse, where the official light was first exhibited by them on February 1, 1910.
A fog bell composed of 78% copper and 22% tin, that was cast by the McShane Bell Foundry Co. of Baltimore, was mounted on the deck beneath the veranda. When visibility was limited in the area, the fog bell was struck every fifteen seconds.
During the first summer of its operation, the Elbow of Cross Ledge Lighthouse had several visitors arriving from both the Delaware and New Jersey shore. An article in the July 25th, 1910 edition of the Bridgeton Evening News noted that twenty people had paid a visit to the lighthouse on the previous day.
Timothy Campbell, with his speedy naphtha boat, the Lillian C., took several from Fortescue out to the light who hailed from Bridgeton and Philadelphia, while a Delaware launch brought out quite a number of visitors. The parties were shown over the light station and expressed their appreciation to the keepers for their courtesies in explaining the house. The keepers at the new Ledge take great pride in showing parties over the house, and the neatness in which the place is kept reflects great credit upon the men in service.
While the keepers may have kept the lighthouse neat, they were not necessarily fond of their place of residence. In an article included in a December, 1954 edition of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Francis A. Massey, office-in-charge of the Lewes Coast Guard Station, stated "the boys on Elbow of Cross Ledge lost plenty of sleep on foggy nights" as several vessels had struck the lighthouse with glancing blows while trying to navigate the bay in pea soup fog. The article also contained the following commentary on the keepers' life at Elbow of Cross Ledge.
It was no laughing matter that the four-man crew of the lighthouse slept in their life jackets, ready to jump into the bay should their hazardous "house" come tumbling down. When visibility was poor, ships often passed so near the lighthouse that the whole building throbbed and shuddered from the vibrations of the ship engines.
The crew living at the station in 1951 likely donned their life jackets as well when a powerful storm inflicted serious damage to the lighthouse. After the tempest, the Coast Guard decided to automate the lighthouse, and the four-man crew was removed. Power to the lighthouse was supplied via a submarine cable that was put in place between Fortescue, NJ and the lighthouse. A second cable was then run between Elbow of Cross Ledge and the Miah Maull Lighthouse to permit the keepers at Miah Maull to control the beacon at the vacant lighthouse.
The frequent fears of the former keepers were finally realized on October 20, 1953. That day, the Steel Apprentice was inbound to Philadelphia from the Middle East. The giant ore ship was operating practically blind as a thick fog blanketed the bay and the vessel’s radar was out of commission. After passing Miah Maull Lighthouse, the Steel Apprentice set a course toward the elbow, its next turning point. The ship was traveling at a low speed watching for channel markers, when the Elbow of Cross Ledge Lighthouse suddenly appeared directly in its path. There wasn’t even time to brace for the impact, which toppled the upper two-thirds of the lighthouse into the bay and heavily damaged the caisson. Certainly if keepers had still been stationed at the lighthouse there would have been at least one fatality.
The previously damaged lighthouse was now partially destroyed. Mack Construction of Cape May was paid $100,000 to complete the demolition and install a skeleton tower atop the caisson foundation. Today, the red tower, which stands on a white base, supports a solar beacon.
The only offshore brick lighthouse on Delaware Bay no longer stands, but thanks in part to the wreckage of the lighthouse that provides shelter for the fish in the surrounding water, Elbow of Cross Ledge now attracts visitors who come for a morning or afternoon of fishing. One or two boats are frequently found at anchor near the lighthouse, right beneath a sign that prohibits anchoring due to the submarine cable that still feeds Miah Maull Shoal. The fishermen have caused the cable to break five times between 1995 and 2004. It is ironic that boaters are disabling the aids established to help them safely navigate Delaware Bay.
Located about 26 miles up the Delaware
Bay from Cape May and five miles offshore
from Fortescue. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Dave Sleeper, used by permission.