Historic Structures

Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Sandy Hook New Jersey

Date added: August 14, 2020 Categories: New Jersey Lighthouse

The tall, white lighthouse at Sandy Hook, New Jersey was the fifth lighthouse to be built in America, when erected in 1764, and today is the oldest standing light tower in the United States. Originally called the "New York Lighthouse," its unfailing beam has befriended innumerable vessels as they have passed in or out of New York.

In 1761, the merchants of New York City financed a lottery to raise sufficient funds to erect a lighthouse on Sandy Hook, to guide ships past the New Jersey Shoal into New York harbour. Built by Isaac Contro by June 11, 1764, the 105 foot brick and masonry lighthouse was called the "New York Lighthouse." The cost of construction was defrayed by a 22 cent per ton tax levied on ships entering the harbour.

During the Revolution, the Americans put the light out of operation in March, 1776, so that the British could not benefit from it. However the enemy soon repaired the beacon and despite an attempt to destroy it by cannon fire, by an intrepid band in small boats, the light has remained lit except during the blackouts of the Second World War.

In addition to shining its beacon at night, the lighthouse communicated with lookouts on Staten Island during the day by flying a series of varicoloured shapes on top of the tower, which indicated inbound vessels at the Narrows.

Sandy Hook Light was ceded to the Federal Government in 1789. In 1823 a light ship, the Sandy Hook, was put into operation, to facilitate shipping.

The Sandy Hook Light is still housed by the original tower, built by Isaac Contro in 1764. The octagonal structure is nine stories (103 feet) tall and tapers from a base diameter of 29 feet to a 15 feet diameter on the top level. The lighthouse is built of brick on a masonry foundation, which walls are 7 feet thick at the base. The interior diameter of the tower is constant while the width of the walls tapers. The exterior has been whitewashed.

The lighthouse is entered through a vestibule on the south side and the visitor then proceeds down a short, vaulted hall to the circular iron stairs by which the ascent to the beacon is made with the aid of a rope guy attached with iron rings to the interior wall. The tower is pierced by 13 windows, positioned in a spiral fashion. There are no windows on the north, northeast, south, or southeast sides. The windows are recessed at a standard distance from the exterior wall surface, and as the visitor ascends, their sills which are capped with masonry blocks, grow progressively more shallow.

The circular stairway terminates on the level just below the beacon platform. An iron ladder passes through the brick vaulted ceiling to the glass and steel superstructure which houses the beacon. The 45,000 candlepower beacon is approximately 4 feet wide and 8 feet high. The light itself is housed within thick circular glass lens. A circular walkway surrounds the this cupola, with its copper domed roof.

The Sandy Hook Light is located within Fort Hancock Military Reservation in the middle of the penisula, approximately one mile from the northern tip. New York City is directly to the north, across Lower New York Bay. Approximately 10 feet southwest of the tower is the former lightkeeper's house, a two-and-a-half story frame house with a hip roof. It has been converted into officers' quarters.