|Miah Maull Shoal, NJ|
Description: Nehemiah Maull, born in 1737, was employed as a Delaware River pilot, an occupation that he shared with his father John, who had immigrated to Lewes, Delaware from England in 1725. In 1780, Nehemiah set out for a voyage to England to stake his claim to a portion of the family fortune. Given his occupation, Nehemiah was surely acquainted with the hazards of navigating Delaware Bay, but apparently the captain of the vessel on which Nehemiah was traveling was not, as the ship wrecked on an unnamed shoal in the bay. Nehemiah perished in the accident, but in honor of his years of service on Delaware Bay, his name was given to the shoal, so that he would live on in the memory of those navigating the bay. His multi-syllabic first name must have been considered too long, as the name given the shoal was just Miah Maull.
With a width of 800 yards and a length of 1,000 yards, Miah Maull shoal lies just east of Delaware Bay’s main shipping channel. Though late in coming, a lighthouse for the shoal was finally recommended by the Lighthouse Service in 1904 at a projected cost of $75,000. Congress allocated $40,000 for the project in 1906, and the remaining $35,000 the following year. With the lighthouse fully funded, a test boring was made on the proposed site, a circular area with a diameter of 400 feet that was ceded to the federal government by the State of New Jersey.
The Miah Maull Lighthouse would be of the caisson style, and the pieces of the cast-iron shell for its foundation were fabricated by the Lynchbourg Foundry Co. of Virginia at a cost of $8,633.47 and shipped to the Christiana Depot near Wilmington, Delaware in July of 1908. Around that same time, wooden piles, which would support the lighthouse, were being driven into the shoal. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1909 describes the foundation being assembled at the depot as being “40 feet in diameter at the bottom, sloping to 30 feet in diameter at the height of 30 feet. It has a bell-shaped top course 40 feet in diameter, with a cornice, and is 42 feet 8 inches high. The shell is to rest on a 24 inch course of 12 by 12 inch cross timbers bolted together water-tight, and finally placed in position and filled with concrete. The grillage and three courses of the foundation shell were erected on launchways at the Christiana light-station in October and November, 1908.”
When the original contractor was unable financially to continue work on the foundation, a new contract had to be drawn up for Tatnall Brown Co. of Wilmington, who starting in June of 1909 launched the shell, transported it to the site, and filled it with concrete. In the meantime, Richard Mfg. Co. of Bloomberg, Pennsylvania was working on the cast-iron lighthouse superstructure, which was “in the form of a frustum of a cone, three stories high, surmounted by a watch room and fourth-order helical bar lantern, and surrounded at the base by a veranda.”
The original lens used in the Miah Maull Lighthouse was produced by Barbier, Benard & Turenne of Paris in 1912 and was marked as “456 – U.S.L.H.S.” The lens completed one revolution every 15 seconds atop steel balls, and ruby glass was positioned in the lantern room to mark the shoal side of the lighthouse. The same year in which the lens was manufactured the following appeared in the Lighthouse Service Bulletin:
Until recently it has been necessary to procure all the cut-glass lenses used in the Lighthouse Service from either France, England, or Germany, most of them coming from France. The making of a lighthouse lens has hitherto been largely a matter of manual labor, and, as labor abroad is cheaper than in this country, the American manufacturers have declined to compete with foreign makers.
The American firm of Macbeth-Evans started with fifth-order Fresnel lenses, and “they were so successfully made that there are now being manufactured a number of fourth-order fixed and flashing lenses. The first one of the last lot has been delivered to the general depot and when tested was found to be superior to foreign lenses and can be made for the same cost or less than those furnished from abroad.” The cost-savings was possible since the prisms were “formed by machines instead of by hand.”
One of the Macbeth-Evans lenses, a fourth-order, six-panel, fixed lens, replaced the rotating lens in the Miah Maull Lighthouse. This optic remained in service for years, but was reportedly removed by the Coast Guard in 1999.
The lens isn’t the only thing at Miah Maull that is not original. The current color scheme used on the lighthouse, a red conical tower on a gray conical pier with a black lantern, was put in place around 1940. Before then, the lighthouse was primarily an unattractive brown.
The Coast Guard assumed responsibility for Miah Maull Lighthouse in 1939, and one of the men who served as Officer-in-Charge was Dave Moyer. He recalls the day he reluctantly arrived at the lighthouse to begin his assignment and met the two coastguardsmen who would be serving with him. “The three of us introduced ourselves and shook hands. I knew they were a bit apprehensive and I could read their minds. 'Just what is this First Class like? Is he gung ho? Will our world have to change?' They helped me stow my gear and the three of us went into the galley and sat down. That’s when my crew put me through the first test. One of them got up, went into the refrigerator and took out three cans of beer asking me if I wanted one. Two sets of eyes then riveted on me. 'I believe that sort of thing isn’t permitted on these stations, is it?' Before they could answer I asked, 'What kind do you have?' I saw them relax. We all popped open a can and I took the opportunity to tell them what I expected.”
Moyer only had six months left on his enlistment, and he told the men they could stretch the rules a bit and take some shortcuts, as long as they stayed out of trouble. One of the rules that was relaxed regarded visits by commercial vessels, as they were the source of the stations prized beer collection. Being senior, Moyer took the day shift, while the junior crewmember took the night watch.
Early one morning, Moyer was awakened by a call on the radio “Miah Maull Shoal Light…Miah Maull Shoal Light…This is Cape May Radio, Cape May Radio…over.” Certainly the man on duty would answer the radio, but moments later the radio barked “Fourteen Foot Bank Light this is Cape May Radio…do you see anything out of the ordinary at Miah Maull?” and Moyer leapt to this feet. The next transmission was a request from Cape May for the thirty-footer from Fortescue to investigate the lack of response from Miah Maull Lighthouse.
Moyer raced below and searched for the guy who was on watch. He was nowhere to be found, but there was a wastebasket full of empty cans of their prized possession. Moyer concluded that the tipsy Coastie might have fallen overboard, but then thought to check his bedroom. Moyer gently awakened his slumbering subordinate by grasping his shirt and yanking him to his feet. There was only time for a short string of expletives uttered at full voice, as some quick thinking was necessary to save their skins. Moyer ordered his drowsy comrade to extinguish the light, while he executed his brilliant plan. “I grabbed the handset of the radio and began to finger the key on and off in rapid succession while talking. 'Cape May Radio, this is Miah Maull Shoal. How do you copy?' Their reply was the expected one. 'Miah Maull, this is Cape May. You are breaking up, I say again, you are breaking up.' I then repeated the keying only this time a bit slower. 'Cape May, Miah Maull Shoal, how do you copy now?' Their reply came rapidly. 'Miah Maull, Cape May, better but you are still breaking up.' I continued this exercise until I sent normally.”
With his “improved” radio, Moyer explained that they had been working on their problematic radio for a couple of hours and had forgotten to extinguish the light. The thirty-footer, which had monitored the transmissions, still proceeded to the lighthouse, and after slowly circling a couple of times and seeing the “sleep-deprived” crew sipping from their coffee cups, returned to port. Moyer's quick thinking had definitely saved his own skin and that of his fellow coastguardsman. The story of what actually happened that morning at Miah Maull was a closely held secret for years.
Dave Moyer has supplied the following pictures that document the condition of Miah Maull Lighthouse during his service.
“I think it’s an important mission to keep these historic aids to navigation chronicled and remembered,” writes Dave Moyer. “They served a valuable purpose in the building of this nation. I would caution those who are enamored by the perceived notion that crews had an idyllic existence while serving on them. Years ago I was asked to address a group dedicated to the preservation of these Bay light and I think I ma have disillusioned a few. Their perception of a bunch of old slicker-wearing slats, smoking pipes and spinning sea yarns while on these lights is simply false. Like so most military service, it was extremely boring with the tedium broken by brief spells of extreme nervousness due to some situation or other all the way up to swallowing once or twice to regain your composure after realizing you were isolated and could be in real danger. In my short time I recall the somewhat frazzle nerves after having to have the foghorn activated for three or four days. The entire structure vibrated and ears literally rang for a day or two after. It’s amusing now, but in order to converse, your mind became so used to the noise that you would actually stop speaking in mid word for a few seconds to wait for the horn to stop, and the scary part was that you would do it for a day afterward without thinking.”
The Coast Guard removed their last crew from the station in 1973, after automating the lighthouse. The metal veranda on the first level was later removed as well, after it had deteriorated past the point of repair.
Lewis Maull, a descendant of Nehemiah Maull, was successful in having the lighthouse added to National Register of Historic Places in 1991, and a plaque commemorating the honor was installed on the first level of the lighthouse in October of that year. With the Coast Guard from Cape May and descendants of Nehemiah Maull still interested in its future, the Miah Maull Lighthouse continues to warn vessels away from the shoal as it honors one who helped others safely navigate the bay.
In June of 2011, Miah Maull Shoal Lighthouse was declared excess to the needs of the United States Coast Guard and offered to eligible organizations under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Qualified entities were given sixty days to submit a letter of interest and were required to obtain a Tidelands Lease for the State of New Jersey to occupy the submerged lands. After no suitable organization was found, the General Services Administration initiated an auction for the lighthouse on June 4, 2012. The lighthouse was pulled from the auction block in October, when a notice was posted alerting bidders that a new auction would be held the following spring, once the U.S. Coast Guard's design for the solarization of the light was finalized.
Located near the center of the Delaware
Bay, eight miles south of Fortescue and
18.5 miles northwest of Cape May. 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 Dave Sleeper, Kraig Anderson, used by permission.