Lighthouse of the Month – Cape May, New Jersey
I really do not know if it is the most photographed lighthouse in the mid-Atlantic, but I would not be surprised. Why? First it is a classic tall columnar structure in the busy coastal setting of Cape May Beach, New Jersey–one of the most popular beaches in the region. Open to the public, the lighthouse claims more than 100,000 visitors per year. There is an admission fee to climb the tower.
The light is set back from the beach, which wraps around the site, allowing photography from every side of the structure—good photos can be captured at any time during the day.
As is the case with so many coastal lighthouses, this is not the original lighthouse at Cape May—there have been three different lighthouses. The first was built on Cape May Point in 1932. It was a 70-ft tall brick structure lighted with fifteen oil lamps that rotated to create a flashing pattern. The ocean gradually eroded the beach under the first lighthouse, and it was abandoned in 1847. That site is now underwater.
A second lighthouse was built in 1847. Interpreting the brief history of the second light house suggests it was poorly constructed and even more poorly maintained by the assigned keeper. This prompted the construction of the third and current lighthouse, which was completed and first illuminated on Halloween of 1859.
The light and equipment were removed from the second lighthouse, and it was shortened by some twenty feet. A roof was installed atop the shortened structure and it was used for storage. Coastal erosion finally claimed the second lighthouse structure.
The third lighthouse went through cycles of poor maintenance and neglect offset by responsible and attentive stewardship. In 1933, having been converted to an electric beacon, the light was automated, no longer requiring a keeper. It was shut off during World War II. The marine beacon was removed in 1946 and remained dark until 1964 when an aeronautical rotating beacon was installed.
In 1996, the Coast Guard transferred ownership of the light to the state of New Jersey. The history of the light from this point is not clear. At the time of these photos, there was a single steady light in the tower—not a rotating beacon.
A very informative and detailed history of the Cape May light is available at: http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=389
The Cape May Lighthouse may be one of the most photographed along the Mid-Atlantic Coast.