Friday, December 5, 2008

Two "Ugly' Lighthouses.

I don't have a book to review at the moment...don't get me wrong, I have lots of books but I am just a little behind in my reading, what with the holidays and, I think it might be time for a visit to one of our guardians of the sea, a lighthouse.
I know you are very excited, but try to control yourselves.

To save a few of the 'pretty' lighthouses for the winter, today we will visit two of the very similar looking 'ugly duckling' lighthouses of New Jersey, Finns Point Rear Range Light and Tinicum Island Rear Range Light. So first, a word about range lights. They were normally built along rivers and they were built in pairs, one at the bank of the river and one set some distance back. The idea was then when the two lights were lined up in the vision of the ship's captain, they were in the channel and would not run aground. To give you an idea how necessary this was, the site where the Finns Point Light was built, where the Delaware River and Delaware Bay separate, saw 147 ships trying to negotiate that area destroyed between 1926 and 1934.

Both lights are what are called skeletal lights, wrought iron frames with a center column that contains the spiral stairs to the top. Finns Point was built by the Kellogg Bridge company in Buffalo NY in 1876, and then shipped, in parts, by train to Salem, NJ and then taken to the site by wagon and erected. The “Description of Lighthouse Sites of the Fourth Lighthouse District” gives this description of the tower:

“94 feet 8 and one half inches high from base to the focal plane. It is of wrought-iron, braced and supported by beams and tie-rods; the shell of the tower is of one quarter inch sheets of iron, riveted together, with the necessary openings for windows; it is 8 feet in diameter; and lined on the inside with vertical tongue-and-grooved boards; it encloses a cast-iron spiral stairway leading to lantern and watch-room. The posts supporting the tower are of 9-inch I beams, braced together with 5-inch I beams and rods from one and a half to one inch in diameter. The posts have an inclination of 1 horizontal to 6 vertical; they are held to masonry piers 6 feet deep by bolts, two at each post, attached to a wrought-iron plate under the piers. The tower is entered through a cast-iron vestibule one story in height.”
The light was commissioned in 1877 and served until 1933, when it was decided by the government that it was obsolete. Seems they might have been mistaken because the river pilots petitioned for it to be reactivated and, in an unmanned form, it served until 1950. Today it is located in the Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and although it was sandblasted and restored in 1983, very sadly, because of federal budget cuts, today it is rarely open for visits. I was very lucky that it was open for the 2008 NJ Lighthouse Challenge and I was able to climb it that weekend.

Tinicum, located on the Delaware River directly across from Philadelphia in Billingsport, NJ was constructed in 1880 and unlike Finns Point, is still active. The original front wooden light, at the river's edge, was replaced by a steel tower on a concrete base. The rear light is 85 feet tall, with a focal plane, or distance from sea level to the light, of 112 feet, and is another black, cast iron, skeletal tower. To quote “Lighthouses Of The New Jersey Light House Challenge” by Trish Chambers, a very good book about NJ lighthouses, by the way;
“The Tinicum lighthouse is not pretty by normal lighthouse standards. It has been described as 'homely' 'the ugly duckling' and the 'coffee can on legs with concrete shoes'....the location of the lighthouse in the middle of the town's recreational fields two blocks from the water does not help to dispel the perception that this isn't a “real lighthouse”. Most lighthouse lovers either don't know Tinicum exists or don't think it's worth investigating because, it's 'just a steel tower'.
My advice, dear reader, is not to sell this lighthouse short."

And she is right. First of all, the view from the top, of NJ, Delaware and Pennsylvania, is wonderful. I was lucky enough to be there at sunrise, which was simply beautiful and fascinating. You can see huge ships sailing into Philly harbor, planes landing at the airport across the river, the old Naval Yard and across the street, the largest solar panel 'farm' on the East Coast.
Second, it is an important part of the history of the area and the locals that act as guides are very knowledgeable and excited about sharing her place in their past. And finally, as I said, Tinicum is still an active aid to navigation on the river. Again, to quote Chambers;
“Mariners use the powerful DCB-24 fixed red beacon to navigate past Little Tinicum Island in the Delaware River. When the NJ Lighthouse Society brought in a Delaware River pilot with over 8000 landings to his credit, he said “even though the ships are now equipped with radar, computers and GPS to guide them, it is reassuring to see lights to make sure of my location.””


  1. sunrise!? what time did you leave to get there. i enjoyed your very thorough post. i agree they are quite UGLY. i'd like to get a bucket of paint for them. perhaps one orange and one blue? btw, watching the football game tomorrow!?!

  2. They are not too pretty, not A Barnegat or Sandy Hook, but they have there own charm. I agree, a bit of color might help but maybe there is a reason to keep them black and rather sinister looking.

    Football? Is that the game with that pointy ball? Is that Florida team playing again? ;-)

  3. Wait!
    Orange and Blue you say??
    Isn't that the color of that Florida team?

  4. That is an ugly lighthouse, but if you're going to paint it, it should be orange and maroon!

  5. Well, I had to get in on the action. I'm watching a game tomorrow, too, but not the same one as Bandit Jack.

  6. Well, poor Bandit was a bit sick yesterday and had to go to the vets, but I hope he was able to see his team, the Gators, win!

  7. This is a great post. I love lighthouses, even the less than pretty ones!


  8. It's every lighthouse I have visited, there are people there who really love 'their' lighthouse. Even the 'ugly' ones.

  9. I love all lighthouses, yes even the "ugly" ones, lol! I truely enjoyed your blog, very nice! Keep up the good work.

  10. I agree. Even the so-called ugly ones are interesting and 'attractive' in their own way. Glad you like the p;lace...please come back and visit often...I should have a post about a very nice lighthouse this week...and it isn't even in NJ.

  11. Nice blog..


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