Tuesday Topic – Lighthouse of the Month
Most of us are familiar with lighthouses used to guide ships to port or avoid navigation hazards. Another group of lighthouses were used to provide very precise navigation, especially up winding rivers to ports like Philadelphia on the Delaware River. These lights, called range lights, were pairs of lights—one taller placed well behind a lower light usually positioned near the shore. When the pilot had the two lights aligned, one above the other, the vessel was “on the range line,” and in the channel of the river. A sign at Finns Point Rear Range illustrates the concept.
The pilot would navigate keeping the two lights aligned until he reached a point in the river where he could see the next set of range lights. The intersection of these two different pairs of range lights marked the turning point for the next leg of the river channel.
Most of the rear range lights are still standing, while many of the front range lights have been lost.
The Tinicum Rear Range light is located in Paulsboro, New Jersey, south of Philadelphia. Unlike most lighthouses that had rotating beacons, the range light, which was either red or white, was visible only in one direction. Tinicum went into service in 1880 with an oil-fired lamp. In 1917 it was converted to an electric light.
The light is 85 feet tall from its base. The light is 109 feet above sea level, and was visible for eight and half miles.
Tinicum is a steel tubular structure supported by a “skeleton” of six steel legs. Beneath the lantern room is the watch room. There are 112 steps from the base to the watch room. The structure at the base of the tower is for maintenance of the structure. The keeper’s house was a separate building nearby. This and other buildings such as the oil shed and a barn have been replaced by sports fields.
Tinicum Rear Range was paired with the Tinicum Front Range light. The original front range light has been replaced by an automated light on a modern steel tower. Today, most ships navigate by GPS, radar, radio ranges, and sonar, making lighthouses all but obsolete. The Tinicum Range lights, however, continue to operate as an aid to navigation.
The light is open to visitors one weekend each month.