Tall conical towers, painted in the classic red and white stripes, or maybe the daring black and white spiral of the Cape Hatteras light...that was for me the 'classic' lighthouse image. Yes, I will admit that I was a lighthouse snob. Tall and stately, soaring into the sky. But my recent journeys have changed my mind and one lighthouse that I thought at first would be a least favorite turned out to be of my most, The East Point Light, the second oldest beacon in NJ.
In the 1800's, before a disease reeked havoc with the beds, the oyster was king of the Delaware Bay, with almost 500 boats working out of the circuitous Maurice River at one point. The ports of such interesting sounding towns as Bivalve and Shell Pile, where recreational boats now appear to far outnumber working fishing boats, were once thriving communities and alive with the shouts of over 1500 oysterman, the flapping sails of the oyster boats and roads literally paved with the snowy white crushed shells. And further up the river was the growing manufacturing city of Millville, still known today for it's glass manufacturing plants, that used the river for shipping. So safe entry into the Maurice River Cove was an economic necessity.
In 1849, the Congress alloted the sum of $250 for the purchase of some marshy land on the east point of the river's entrance and a couple of thousand dollars more for the building. An 1878 description of the lighthouse by one of the keepers describes it in the following way..
"The light is exhibited from [the] lantern on top of keeper’s dwelling, and is 48 feet above ordinary sea level; it is of the 6th order, fixed white, and is supplied with Franklin lamps. The dwelling is of brick, two stories high, and one-story kitchen adjoining east end, which is also used as oil-room. The first story is divided into two rooms and a hall, with stairway to second story, which is divided in the same way. There is a cellar under whole house, which is wet in very high tides; it contains a cedar water-tank of a capacity of 700 gallons."
Over the years there were 10 keepers at the light until, with the installation of an automated fueling system at the turn of the century, the last keeper was reassigned in 1911. After that, the US Lighthouse Establishment installed an unpaid custodian, who was allowed to live in the house and paid $1 in exchange for maintenance of the property.
But somewhat sadly, progress marches on and with the change in maps and various navigational aids, after the beacon was extinguished for security reasons during WW II, the government decided there was no longer a need for the light. It was left vacant for many years and deeded to the State of NJ in 1956, that wanted the property, not for the light, but for recreational access to the bay. So beyond boarding up the building, no work was done and it continued to deteriorate.
But finally in the 1970's someone came to East Point's rescue with the formation of the Maurice River Historical Society that works, despite a terrible fire early in the work, to restore and maintain the lighthouse to the present. On July 2, 1980, the lighthouse was reactivated by the U.S Coast Guard, a beacon shining once more as a navigational aid on the Delaware Bay.
Unfortunately, East Point is only open to the public on the 3rd Sunday of the month, as work continues on the interior, so I was not able to go inside on this trip. I will have to save that for another day because I read there is a grand view of the bay from the tower.
Also of interest for those that make a trip there is the surrounding Heislerville Wildlife Management area and their seven mile long auto nature trail. It winds along the bay, through the marsh and salt hay meadows and past ponds filled with all sort of birds and critters. Snow geese, pintail and canvasback ducks, the occasional bald eagle, migrating shorebirds...a pond full of snowy egrets. I saw the most beautiful Great Blue Heron but sadly he took off before I could get a photo of him...so that picture is not mine. Next time I will be better prepared and not so afraid of driving off the narrow, raised sand road into the marsh or worrying about what would happen if another car came along in the opposite direction, since the road is only
one car wide in most places. Happily, the only cars I saw were parked at wider spots at several creeks where a number of people were involved in some activity involving nets and lines..I assume crabbing. Hey, I grew up in a city! What do I know?
I do know it was a grand trip to a beautiful lighthouse.