Barnegat Lighthouse is one of Long Beach Island’s most recognizable landmarks. Often referred to as “LBI”, the 18-mile island sits just off the mainland in central New Jersey. Barnegat Lighthouse, referred to by locals as “Old Barney”, sits at its northernmost tip and is one of the top tourist attractions in New Jersey.
Early History of Long Beach Island
Long Beach Island has centuries of history. The Lenni Lanape, members of the Algonquian linguistic family, were the island's first summer inhabitants. Fast-forward to the early 17th century and European settlers began to arrive. They mapped the island, making LBI one of the first places documented in the “New World”.
Captain Cornelious Jacobsen May, a Dutch explorer and tradesman, arrived in 1614 and gave the island its name. According to LBI.net, May noticed the rough waters and dubbed the inlet “Barendegat”; translated it means “Inlet of the Breakers”. While hunters visited the island, it wasn't until the early 1700s the first permanent settlers built homes on the island.
That name coined by May has remained through the centuries, but it has since been modified to the name “Barnegat”, which is an Anglo version of the original name.
This photo was taken in August 2015 as I was standing on the jetty looking towards Barnegat Lighthouse.
A Lighthouse is Built
Barnegat Lighthouse was not the first lighthouse built on the northern tip of Long Beach Island. The first lighthouse, a 40-foot masonry tower, was constructed in 1834 after U.S. Congress appropriated $6,000 in funding to build it. Mariners of that time deemed the structure inadequate due to its poor light system and encroaching waters were threatening the original lighthouse. As a result, a new lighthouse was ordered.
Lt. George G. Meade, the same U.S. Army officer who would later become prominent in the U.S. Civil War and lead the Second Brigade of Pennsylvania troops to victory in the Battle of Gettysburg, was commissioned to design the new lighthouse. He submitted his construction plans in 1855, and the following year building began. The new and improved lighthouse was completed in 1857. The original structure fell into the sea this year.
The new lighthouse stood 172-feet tall (four stories taller than the original and the 172 feet includes the light tower) and was first lit in 1859. It is one of the tallest lighthouses in the United States and cost $40,000 to build.
Meade’s contribution to the lighthouse is marked outside the lighthouse's entrance by a bust of his likeness, a plaque and an inscription.
A tribute to Lt. General George Gordon Meade stands outside the Barnegat Lighthouse entrance in modern day.
“Old Barney" stayed lit for many years to guide boats in and out of the inlet, but its light was retired, having been extinguished in 1944. However, in 2009 and 150 years to the day from when it was originally lit, "Old Barney's" lamp was relit with a Coast-Guard approved light and remains shining to this day. The lighthouse and its grounds are also designated as a 32-acre state park, having been a park since 1957.
Visiting Barnegat Lighthouse
Since the mid-19th century, Barnegat Lighthouse has stood tall and is in good shape. It’s a very visible structure and you can see it from a distance. Visiting this section of Long Beach Island, you can see why May chose the name “Barendegat” back in the early 17th century. Strolling along the walkways in the northern part of LBI, you can see the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash against the rocks.
Visitors can also opt to go inside “Old Barney” during the summer months and climb the 217 stairs to the top. The views from the top are stunning. I’ve climbed “Old Barney” two or three times, the most recent being August 2015.
Walking towards the top of Barnegat Light and looking down the steps behind me.
This photo was taken from inside the lighthouse looking out one of the windows - I'm guessing I snapped the photo maybe about half way to the top. You can see the sidewalk and the jetty stretching out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Adjacent to the lighthouse is an interpretive center, some beautiful paths and, of course, visitors can walk along the park and experience the wonderful sea level views of both the ocean and the bay. Visitors that cannot or prefer not to climb to the top can see images transmitted by cameras to the interpretive center.
People are always walking, fishing and wading into the water near some of the areas off the jetty which runs along the side of the lighthouse to the beach and into the Atlantic. Some build stone structures in the sand, and those who do climb to the top of the lighthouse can see what they built or what messages they "write" by placing large rocks in the sand.
In August 2015 I did something that I always wanted to do. Usually, I’ll get up and watch the sunrise, but don’t venture too far, but last summer decided to walk up to the jetty and then climb it all the way until I reached the sidewalk. The sidewalk leads to the lighthouse, which I also included in my morning walk. This was all during sunrise so there were both beautiful views and interesting perspectives at that hour of the morning. So serene. It was one of the best experiences ever! I left feeling like I crossed something off my bucket list.
Sure people come for the sun, amusement parks and the beaches at LBI, but there are lots of other things to see and do on the island. If you are ever on LBI, stop and pay “Old Barney” a visit. Check out the bay and Viking Village while you’re in Barnegat Light, the sea and wildlife is amazing.
View of Barnegat Lighthouse from the opposite site of the bay. The Atlantic is just beyond that land in the distance.
Barnegat Lighthouse is open to the public daily from Memorial Day until Labor Day (weather permitting and check for hours before your visit). During the “off-season”, the days and hours vary to see the inside of the lighthouse. The park's website recommends calling 609-494-2016 to verify current days, hours and fees (which is nominal and only charged to climb the lighthouse during the summer season).
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