East Point Lighthouse, Maurice River New Jersey
Due to the importance of the maritime industry to the Delaware River and Bay area, between 1764 when the area's first lighthouse was built at Cape Henlopen, Delaware, and 1926 when the last manned-type lighthouse was built at the Harbor of Refuge near Lewes, Delaware, over 50 separate lighthouse or lightship stations were once in operation. Today, all of the lightship stations have been discontinued, none of the lighthouse sites has a year-round keeper or custodian, and only 20 of the historic lighthouses or keeper's dwellings still exist in this area. Of those remaining structures, the former Maurice River Lighthouse is the oldest in the Delaware River and Bay area, and the second oldest in the states of New Jersey and Delaware, with only the Sandy Hook Lighthouse of 1764 having existed longer. The structure now known as the East Point Lighthouse is also the only operating lighthouse still standing on the shores of the Delaware Bay.
The lighthouse is the second oldest existing in New Jersey, and is the only lighthouse of its type known to exist on the East Coast of the United States. Sometimes referred to as a Cape Cod style lighthouse, the design for the former Maurice River Lighthouse was adapted for the construction of a number of the first lighthouses to be built on the West Coast beginning in 1852.
The lighthouses and lightships of the Delaware Bay region were established for one of two reasons, those in the water were established to warn of shoals or ledges, and those on land were erected to guide shipping safely in and out of various rivers, creeks, and harbors. The Maurice River Lighthouse had been established for the latter reason, to guide an ever expanding shipping trade in and out of the Maurice River to towns such as Bivalve, Port Norris, Leesburg, Dorchester, Port Elizabeth, Mauricetown, and Millville. Those benefitting from its guiding light were the fishing and oyster fleets, the local shipbuilders, and the numerous ships engaged in transporting sand and gravel from local pits as well as manufactured goods and agricultural items from the numerous factories and farms in the Millville area.
Although the East Point Lighthouse's significance to transportation in the region has since diminished with the reduction of shipping traffic on the river in the latter part of the 20th century, its significance to the region's maritime history and the maritime trade currently using the river is still very strong. In terms of maritime trade, the lighthouse structure has long been used as a surveying point for the nearby oyster beds, and large numbers of local fishermen or recreational boaters use the structure both during the day and at night as a landmark to guide them safely on the waters. Rarely is a decommissioned lighthouse brought back into service, but the fact that East Point Lighthouse was relit by the U.S. Coast Guard in July of 1980 (after more than 32 years of darkness), attests to its importance to the region's maritime trade.
The site upon which the lighthouse stands was described in 1849 as being all salt marsh except a knoll or sand island, about a half acre in extent and known locally as Haystack Island, upon which the lighthouse was erected. The lighthouse measures 36' by 20', with a 15' by 14' addition at the east end which was the original kitchen. The two and one half story brick structure was built on a foundation of granite stone, and has a cellar with a brick floor. The first story is divided into two rooms and a center hallway, with the attached one story kitchen at the east end originally also being used as an oil-room. The second story is divided in the same way, with a stairway leading to an unfinished attic, from which a stairway leads to the lantern room. The light in the lantern room was once a 6th order Fresnel lens manufactured by the firm of Henry LePaute of Paris, France, and exhibited from about 45' above sea level. Its guiding light could be seen by ships up to 10 nautical miles away.
Near the northeast corner of the lighthouse stands a brick oi1 shed about 8' by 12' in size and built between 1900 and 1901. Attached to the rear of the oil shed is a small brick room once used as an out house. Only these two original structures remain on the site. A wooden boathouse, wooden fencing, a wooden walkway to the shore, a barn, and the first oil shed (1875) did not survive over the years. Little is known about how they looked, where they stood, and from when to when they existed on the site.
From the beginning all the way through until today, the exterior brickwork has been white. In 1875 the tower was white with a red lantern room, and from at least 1879 through 1907 the lantern was painted black. It probably remained black through 1939 when the US Coast Guard took over. Records from 1908 indicate that the window shutters were green, and that the windows had a lead colored trim. No records yet found ever stated the color of the roof, but it is believed always to have been red. Today, the exterior brickwork is white, and the roof, tower, and lantern room are painted red.
The name of the Maurice River Lighthouse was changed to East Point Lighthouse in 1912. The East Point Lighthouse was discontinued by the US Coast Guard in 1941, although caretakers may have habited the building for a few more years. On April 10, 1956 the vacant property was deeded to the State of New Jersey, Division of Fish, Game, and Wildlife, which was interested in the land for wildlife purposes, but never had the funding or manpower to take care of the historic lighthouse structure. By February of 1971 the condition of the structure had deteriorated to such an extent that a large group of concerned local citizens formed the Maurice River Historical Society for the purpose of saving the and restoring the lighthouse. Sadly, a fire started by trespassers on July 15, 1971 totally destroyed the lighthouse roof and lantern room, and caused serious damage to the building's interior. In 1972, however, the Maurice River Historical Society reached an agreement with the State of New Jersey, and began to rebuild the roof and cupola, an effort which continued through the mid 1970's, financed solely by donations and local fundraising. An additional step taken at this time was to move a donated cottage to the site formerly occupied by the barn, and to rehabilitate and rent out the cottage as a dwelling so that someone would live on the site and thereby curb vandalism. Finally, on July 2, 1980 the US Coast Guard responded to public request and relit the East Point Lighthouse and put it back on the list of active aids to navigation.
Once the roof and cupola were replaced in the 1970's, a lack of proper funding prevented any rehabilitation of the structure through the end of the 1980's. On January 13, 1994 the Maurice River Historical Society was awarded a $184,000 grant from the fiscal year 1995 ISTEA Enhancement Funding Program. That money was used toward rehabilitating the structure's exterior.
The lighthouse has now been fully restored and is open to visitors. Please visit their website and plan a visit!