Sandy Hook Lighthouse – Grandam of American Lighthouses

Lighthouse of the Month

Before there was a Declaration of Independence, there was a Sandy Hook Lighthouse.

Sandy Hook is the oldest operating lighthouse in North America (the “first” lighthouse was Boston Light (first erected in 1716), but it was destroyed by the British in 1776. It was not rebuilt until some years later.

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Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Sandy Hook, New Jersey

Sandy Hook Lighthouse was put in service in 1764, making it the oldest lighthouse continuously and still standing.

The first landmark visible approaching New York Harbor from the sea is the Navesink Highland (see North Tower of the Navasink Twin Lighhouses. Extending some four miles from the highlands is a sandy spit, Sandy Hook. It is low, flat, and difficult to see from offshore, making it a hazard to navigation. After several wrecks in early 1761, New York merchants petitioned the President of His Majesty’s Council of New York for a lighthouse to mark the entrance to New York Harbor.

The lighthouse was funded by lotteries. 10,000 tickets were sold to raise £3000 to build the lighthouse. Each ticked cost £2. 1,684 tickets were to be “fortunate” (winners), 8,316 were blank (losers) and 15% (£300) of the proceeds would go to the lighthouse fund. The first lottery raised only enough money to buy the property for the lighthouse. A second, similar lottery raised an additional £3000 to build the lighthouse.

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Sandy Hook Lighthouse at Sunrise

Built of rubblestone, the 48 oil lanterns of the 103-ft lighthouse were first lighted in June of 1764. The New York congress resolved that the lighthouse be disabled or destroyed during the Revolutionary War so as not to aid British shipping.  The glass lanterns and all of the oil was removed from the site.

The British had the lighthouse back in working order within three months. There was an attempt to destroy the lighthouse, but it was so well built that cannon balls did not seriously damage the structure, and the British were able to maintain the light throughout the war.

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Airline Flying over Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Sandy Hook Lighthouse continued in operation over the years, with minor repairs and renovation. It was first electrified in 1896, when lines were run from a generating station that had been built to power offshore light buoys. In 1906 the electric lighting on the buoys were changed to gas powered lamps and the generator was shut down. Sandy Hook reverted to a kerosene oil lantern for a few more years until it was permanently electrified.

In the 1890s, Fort Hancock was also built on Sandy Hook to serve as a coastal defense armed with cannon, and later as an air defense installation armed with Nike missiles. Today, Fort Hancock has fallen into disuse, but Sandy Hook Lighthouse continues to guide ships to New York harbor.

There is much more to the interesting history of Sandy Hook Lighthouse. For more details of this storied structure, I recommend LighthouseFriends.com 

Sandy Hook Gallery

Photos and Article Copyright 2016, Jeff Richmond

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