Lighthouse Friends Home Page
 Miah Maull Shoal, NJ    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Active Fresnel Lens
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 on 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.

Plans for changing tower's original brown daymark
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Miah Maull Lighthouse would be of the caisson style, and the pieces of the cast-iron shell for its foundation were fabricated by Lynchbourg Foundry Company of Virginia at a cost of $8,633.47 and shipped to Christiana Depot near Wilmington, Delaware in July 1908. Around that same time, 187 fourteen-inch white-oak piles were driven into the shoal to a depth of twenty-one feet, and their heads were then cut off at a height of one foot above the shoal to support the lighthouse's foundation. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1909 described the foundation being assembled at the depot : “This shell is 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 Company of Wilmington, who, starting in June 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.”

A temporary light, mounted atop a woodshed on the completed lighthouse foundation, became operational on September 13, 1909, and this makeshift beacon would have to serve for a couple of years as funds for Miah Maull Lighthouse were depleted. Congress provided an additional $30,000 on March 4, 1911, and a contract for erecting the superstructure and completing the station was made on April 4, 1912. Work at the site began in May 1912, and a permanent light and temporary fog signal, a 2,000-pound bell struck by machinery, were established on February 15, 1913. The station’s third-class Daboll foghorn went into operation on December 5, 1913.

The living quarters for the keepers consisted of a kitchen and dining room on the first floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor, and another pair of bathrooms on the third level.

The original lens used in Miah Maull Lighthouse was manufactured by Barbier, Benard & Turenne of Paris in 1912 and was marked as “456 – U.S.L.H.S.” The lens completed one revolution every fifteen 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.

Recently the matter has been taken up with an American firm of glass manufacturers with the idea of ascertaining if a better lens could not be made in this country than abroad using some modern manufacturing methods.

The American firm of Macbeth-Evans started with fifth-order Fresnel lenses, and when these were mastered, the firm began manufacturing a number of fourth-order fixed and flashing lenses. The first of the fourth-order lenses, which could now be manufactured for less than those furnished from abroad, was delivered to the general depot on Staten Island and when tested was found to be superior to foreign lenses. The cost-savings was possible since the prisms were “formed by machines instead of by hand.”

Miah Maull Lighthouse in 1933 with new daymark
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
One of the Macbeth-Evans lenses, a fourth-order, six-panel, fixed lens, replaced the rotating lens in 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 applied in 1931. Before then, the lighthouse was brown.

The Coast Guard assumed responsibility for Miah Maull Lighthouse in 1939, and one of the men who subsequently 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.

  1. Dave Moyer aboard the USCGC Owasco, two years before being assigned to Miah Maull.
  2. View of Miah Maull Lighthouse from a departing Coast Guard forty-four-foot cutter after a weekly visit to deliver supplies and swap a crew member. The lighthouse had a crew of three men, who would serve two weeks on followed by one week off. The shifts were staggered so that two men were always on the station. The two crewmembers can be seen in the photograph stowing the block and tackle and a metal ladder used for transferring personnel and supplies from the cutter.
  3. Living room and entrance to galley. The gray boxes to the right of the bookcase were for activating the light and foghorn on Miah Maull (lower box) and Elbow of Cross Ledge (upper box), which was controlled by Miah Maull.
  4. Log desk and radio in the opposite end of the living room.
  5. Station galley.
  6. Sparse NCOIC bedroom on the second level. A bathroom and bedrooms for the two other crewmen were also located on this level. The third floor had additional bedrooms that could be used when a repair crew had to spend the night.
  7. Drum lens. The canvas shroud was lowered over the lens during daylight to avoid fires. The deck below was polished hardwood and the concentration of the sunlight passing through the lens could cause hot areas on the floor. The windows in the other half of the lantern room were clear. If a mariner saw “red,” he/she was in a danger area.
  8. Generator in lower level. Fresh water was stored in tanks located below this level with a manhole cover providing access for filling. The generator was used only in emergencies as the lighthouse was the only light on the bay with a shore tie (electrical power from a cable laid from the Fortesque, New Jersey area). A cable from Miah Maull ran to Elbow of Cross Ledge. The lower level also had scuppers or drains ringing the room to allow the water, which would on rare occasions rise to this level, to drain back into the bay.

“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 lights and I think I may 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 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 frazzled 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 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, having deteriorated past the point of repair.

Lewis Maull, a descendant of Nehemiah Maull, was successful in having the lighthouse added to the 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, Miah Maull Lighthouse continues to warn vessels away from the shoal as it honors one who helped others safely navigate the bay.

In June 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 solarization of the light was finalized.

Head Keepers: Henry C. Wingate (1913 - ), Earle T. Muncey (at least 1915 – at least 1916), Samuel Cooke (at least 1919 – at least 1921), E.O. Mitchell (at least 1926), Felix M. Mitchell (at least 1939 – at least 1940).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4 5

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Guiding Lights of the Delaware River & Bay, Jim Gowdy and Kim Ruth, 1999.
  3. “Quick Thinking on Miah Maull,” Dave Moyer.

Location: Located near the center of the Delaware Bay, eight miles south of Fortescue and 18.5 miles northwest of Cape May.
Latitude: 39.126647
Longitude: -75.208682

For a larger map of Miah Maull Shoal Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: The lighthouse is best seen from the water. Cape May Whale Watcher and Delaware Bay Lighthouse Keepers & Friends both offer cruises during the summer that pass by Miah Maull Shoal Lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Miah Maull Shoal Lighthouse

See our List of Lighthouses in New Jersey

The lighthouses The Maps Our friends Lighthouse Resources Lighthouse Events Lighthouse Store Lighthouse Posters
Copyright © 2001- Lighthousefriends.com
Send us an e-mail - please note that lighthousefriends.com is not affiliated with any lighthouse

Pictures on this page copyright Dave Sleeper, Kraig Anderson, used by permission.