History of Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
Historic and picturesque Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, a beacon of safety and assurance to the 19th century mariners, has become a cherished landmark for residents and visitors of this seashore resort community.
The Lighthouse is situated on the south side of the Hereford Inlet, which leads from the Atlantic Ocean to the famed Intra-Coastal Waterway linking Maine to Florida. First used by the 17th century whalers to haul in and butcher their catches, the Inlet’s use as a haven to mariners greatly increased as travel and shipping along the coast became more prevalent.
Strong currents and shifting sandbars near the entrance to the Inlet caused frequent groundings and shipwrecks. Because of this, in 1849, a Life Saving Station was constructed along the south bank of the Hereford Inlet. A second, larger station replaced this in 1871, the time of the creation of the United States Life Saving Service. As the use of the Inlet and coastal shipping continued to increase, so did the number of shipwrecks. It became obvious that a Lighthouse was needed to mark the mouth of the Inlet.
On June 10, 1872 Congress enacted legislation to finance the purchase of land and the construction of a fourth order Lighthouse. The site chosen held a prominent position on the dune area overlooking the approach to the Inlet.
Construction began on the uninhabited barrier island on Nov. 8, 1873 and was completed on March 30, 1874. This wood frame residential style Lighthouse was designed by the Lighthouse Boards Chief Draftsman, Paul J. Pelz. His Victorian era design is referred to as “Swiss Carpenter Gothic” and also “Stick Style”
Hereford is the only Lighthouse like it on the East Coast although it had five “sister“ lights on the West. Pelz designed Point Fermin, East Brother, Mare Island and Point Hueneme in California and Point Adams in Washington State. All of these were almost identical to Hereford and were built about the same time. Only Point Fermin and East Brother still exist.
Paul Pelz would later garner world wide fame as the designer of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
On May 11, 1874 a “Notice to Mariners” formally announced the start of operation of the Light. The fixed white light was located at latitude 39 degrees and longitude 74 degrees, 47 minutes. The tower height is 49 1/2 feet with the light elevation rising to 57 feet above sea level. The light is visible at a distance of 13 nautical miles.
John Marche was the first Lighthouse Keeper. He was in the post less than three months when he drowned when his boat capsized while returning from the mainland. He was replaced by a young man from Cape May Court House, Freeling Hysen Hewitt.
Freeling was a civil war veteran and a former merchant seaman. He would stay on as the keeper of the Light for the next 45 years . Freeling was considered a “Pioneer” of the island and among his many contributions, held the first formal religious services to occur in the Wildwoods, in the Lighthouse parlor.
In 1888, a third larger Bibb#2 style Life Saving Station was constructed three hundred feet Northwest of the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse Service and the Life Saving Service were both run by the Department of the Treasury but were seperate organizations. They were, however, both in the business of saving lives. The Lighthouse by warning and the Life Saving Service by rescue.
Hereford stood firm against the onslaught of the winds, rains, and tides for 40 years at its original location. A severe storm in August of 1913 significantly damaged the foundation, requiring it to be moved westward 150 feet to where it sits today.
In 1915 the Coast Guard absorbed the duties of the U.S. Life Saving Service. A larger building was needed and in 1939 the modern “Roosevelt Style” Coast Guard Station was constructed. This Station also had a boathouse and a maintenance garage. These are the white buildings just north of the Lighthouse. 1939 was also the year that the Coast Guard took over control of the Lighthouse Service.
For the next 25 years the Hereford lighthouse continued in operation. By the early 1960’s the Coast Guard began to automize many of its lighthouses. In 1964 this was the fate of Hereford when an automatic rotating modern optic was placed on an iron skeletal tower behind the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was closed as was the Coast Guard Station next door. The entire property was transferred to the control of the New Jersey State Marine Police. The Police made use of the Coast Guard Buildings but the Lighthouse was boarded up and left to deteriorate for the next 18 years.
In 1982 through the long and painstaking efforts of Mayor Anthony Catanoso and his wife Phyllis a lease was signed “Whereby the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection turns over the stewardship of the Lighthouse to the City of North Wildwood.
Restoration of the neglected building was immediately begun. After only ten months of intense work, on July 1, 1983, a portion of the restored building was opened to the public. Hundreds of public spirited citizens who helped raise funds for the restoration and contributed time, talent, energy and materials were on hand to celebrate the official reopening of the historic landmark for public use.
In 1986 the modern automated light was removed from the iron tower and placed in the Lighthouse lantern room making it a fully functional aid to navigation once again.
Efforts were then begun to also create a museum in the Lighthouse. The interior of the building was furnished with period antiques, educational displays and lighthouse memorabilia. The 4th order Fresnel Lens was also restored and placed on display on the 2nd floor of the Lighthouse.
A project to improve the sandy, barren grounds into a park was undertaken by Superintendent of Parks Steve Murray, who designed the Park along with its many garden areas.
Finally an authentic restoration of the entire Lighthouse was begun in 1998 and as with many old, historic structures is always a work in progress. Grants awarded by the New Jersey Historic Trust and the N.J. Department of Transportation have helped finance this work.
The Hereford Lighthouse is listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places. It is also part of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail. It is operated and maintained by The Friends of Hereford Inlet Lighthouse Inc
with money generated by Lighthouse tours, the gift shop and various fund raising projects.
Our mission is to preserve our city’s landmark and to impress upon and educate the public of its important heritage.
Keepers Of The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
John Marche 1874
John Nickerson 1874
Freeling Hewitt 1874-1919
William Hedges 1919-1925
Laura Hedges 1925-1926
Ferdinand Heizman 1926-1939
Robert O’Neal 1939-1942
George Baker 1945-1955
Newman Bowden 1955-1959
Bruce Bolon 1960-1961
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q. Why doesn’t Hereford look like a typical lighthouse?
A. There are many different styles, sizes, color and building materials of lighthouses.
This all depends on when, why and where they were built. Hereford is a residential style, which means it combines both the keepers house and the light tower in one structure. It is also a harbor light, not a major coastal lighthouse. It was built to mark the entrance to the Hereford Inlet.
Q. How tall is the Lighthouse?
A. The height measured from ground level to the top of the ventilator ball is 57’6”.
Q. Is the building still used as a Lighthouse?
A. Yes. Hereford is still a working navigational aide.
Q. How far out to sea can its beacon be seen?
A On a perfectly clear night, 13 nautical miles.
Q. Does anyone live in the Lighthouse?
A. No. The last live-in Coast Guard keeper left in 1961. The light now goes on automatically at dark.
Q. How many steps are there?
A. Counting from the first step ground level, to the lantern room, there are 69 steps. Visitors will only count 56 though because the lantern room is closed to the public.
Q. Is the Lighthouse haunted?
A. Probably not. A paranormal investigation teams visit and observations were inconclusive. Those that work there every day think not.
Q. Why isn’t the Lighthouse closer to the water?
A. The sea coast is constantly changing so some years the Lighthouse is closer to the water and sometimes it’s further away. A severe northeast storm is Sept. 1913, brought crashing ocean waves against Hereford undermining its foundation. As a result, the building was moved 150 feet west, to where it sits today.
Q. Was the State Police building, next door to Hereford, once a lighthouse?
A. No, that building was originally a Coast Guard Station built in 1938. The little room at the top served as a lookout post.
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