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 Inlets use as a haven to
mariners greatly increased as travel and shipping along the coast
became more prevalent.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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 1960s 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.
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
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.
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 citys 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 ONeal 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.
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
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?
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?
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?
The sea coast is constantly changing so some years the Lighthouse is
closer to the water and sometimes its 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.
For more information on becoming a "Friend of Hereford Inlet Light House"
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Background art courtsey of Donna Elias
Man agrees to complete $50,000 Hereford Inlet Lighthouse paint job for free
By JOHN V. SANTORE, Staff Writer
“I’m having a blast here,” said Ed Pearce as the hydraulic lift
extended upward, raising him above the rooftop of the Hereford Inlet
The sun shone, a breeze rolled in, and
classical music played from his phone. From his perch, he looked out at
the North Wildwood beach, at a nearby lagoon, and at the waves that
broke beyond both, away to the horizon. “This is not work.”
The wooden building below him stood solid and
ornate, though its paint had been peeled and chipped by storms, turned
by the sun from its normal light yellow to a pale pink.
Pearce, who founded the South Jersey company
Painting by Pearce in 1978, said he had passed Hereford many times
without stopping in. He finally did two years ago, where he met Steve
Murray, who chairs The Friends of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse Inc.,
the nonprofit that takes care of the building.
This year, Murray was trying to figure out where to get the $50,000 to
$75,000 he needed to repaint Hereford, which was constructed in 1874.
In the face of statewide budget shortfalls, funds
from the New Jersey Historic Trust and the Department of Transportation
had dried up, he said.
And so Pearce offered to help — by doing the job for
free, in three stages, over the next year. The Lighthouse will only
have to pay for paint and materials, some of which are also being
donated by Soltz Paint & Decorating Centers.
“I really believe that it’s a privilege for me to be able to work on something like this,” Pearce said.
He talked about the quality of Hereford’s wood, cut from previously
untouched trees that grew in the wild woods that gave the future town
“Just working with the craftsmanship and the
material, the building itself architecturally — it’s a gem,” Pearce
And he noted the long history of people who had
dedicated time to preserving the Lighthouse, saying simply, “To be part
of that team, it’s an honor.”
“To me, it’s like a sacred duty,” Murray said,
explaining his dedication to Hereford, as well as to the grounds and
gardens surrounding it which he has cultivated for years.
Murray said he knows people who have spent time in
those spaces alone with their thoughts and together with their
families, in the midst of divorces and on the brink of marriage
“It’s hard to put into words, but it’s just a very special place,” he
said, adding that the annual total has reached about 40,000 visitors.
“I’d like as many people to come here as possible.”
Hereford was built when sailing ships lined the
coastline, Murray said, carrying cargo and people from Nova Scotia to
Cuba, and ferrying immigrants from the old world to the new.
Because of the shifting sand bars beneath the water, wrecks were
common. Murray, who spent three years researching the history of
Hereford for a book he wrote, tallied a minimum of 60 wrecks in the
Hereford Inlet between 1766 and 1919.
In response to the danger, the nation’s young
government funded the construction of lighthouses on the Atlantic
coastline starting in the late 18th century. It also formed the United
States Life-Saving Service in the middle of the 19th, which was merged
into the newly created Coast Guard several decades later.
“What these guys did was unbelievable,” Murray said. The first floor of
Hereford used to serve as the residence of the lighthouse keeper, but
now it’s a museum. Murray pointed to a 1925 illustration of a
Life-Saving Service member, holding a torch aloft on the beach as he
prepared to face crashing ocean waves.
“Seven guys in a boat, going out in the middle of
the winter, through the surf, through ice,” Murray said. “The motto
was, you have to go out, (but) you don’t have to come back. Incredible
for the little bit of money they made.”
Murray said that between the 1960s and 1980s,
Hereford fell into disrepair. Since then, volunteers have worked to
restore it. Pearce’s donated repainting work is the latest development,
though Murray says his efforts never stop.
He hopes to one day take possession a nearby
historical building, currently occupied by the New Jersey State Police,
so that he can create the Historic Anglesea Maritime Village.
But for now, he is preoccupied with every detail of Hereford, just like the lighthouse keepers who lived here for so many years.
Hereford still shines at night, but it no longer
uses the French-made Fresnel lens on display upstairs, its concentric
rings of thick glass forming an Art Deco design that turned the glow of
a small oil lamp into a beacon visible from 13 miles away.
Murray looked out at the ocean through a nearby
window. He had mentioned “the thousands of lives that were saved from
the light being there,” and he brought up the fact that the first
church services in the area were held in the building, too.
He thought again about why he cared so much for
Hereford. “You have that guiding light,” he said, “that’s out there all
Murray said that the creation of the Life-Saving
Service was spurred on by two wrecks that together took the lives of
300 European immigrants.
On Sunday, reports from Europe stated that as many
as 700 migrants may have drowned last week following a single wreck in
the Mediterranean Sea. The men, women, and children on board had been
seeking passage from North Africa to the Italian coast.
Where Hereford’s gardens end and the beach begins, a
small stone monument has been placed in the earth, carved with a single
“In memory of all those lost at sea.”