Dr. Jonathan Pitney,
later called the "Father of Atlantic City," was
concerned about the loss of ships and lives along
Absecon Beach, which gave the beach the nickname "the
Graveyard Inlet." In the mid-1830's Pitney, who had
come to Absecon some 10 years earlier began his
efforts to secure a lighthouse for the beach, to warn
mariners of its dangerous shore. The schooners LOUISA,
Ann, Nile, DUROC ships George Cannon, Frankfort and
Gherge's Kahn were among the scores of vessels that
met their fates on the shores between the Great and
Little Egg Harbors.
Congressional appropriation of $5,000 was voted upon,
with the provision that a favorable report should be
received by an officer of the Navy Department.
In the early 1840's
a reluctant Navy Department was ordered to make a
study to determine the need or lack of need, for a
lighthouse on Absecon Beach. Five thousand dollars was
appropriated for the study by Congress. Commodore La
Vallette was instructed to investigate and report on
the feasibility of the project. He examined records
and reports by Dr. Pitney, but recommended not
constructing a lighthouse on Absecon Beach.
A Joint Resolution
(No 6.) on April 17, 1846 requested that New Jersey
Senators and Representatives in Congress use their
influence to get an appropriation for constructing a
lighthouse. However, no further action with regard to
building a lighthouse on Absecon Beach was undertaken
by the Federal government as a result of the
THE LEGISLATURE OF NEW JERSEY
A Light-House on Absecom Beach, and Bell Buoy outside
of Absecom Bar.
December 21, 1853.
Referred to the Committee on Commerce, and ordered to
STATE OF NEW JERSEY.
JOINT RESOLUTIONS respecting a Light-House on Absecon
Beach, and Bell Buoy outside Absecom Bar.
erection of a light house on Absecom Beach, and the
anchoring of a bell buoy outside Absecom Bar, would
greatly promote the safety of vessels navigating the
Atlantic coast, and thereby conduce to the interests
of navigation and commerce; and whereas, an
application from the citizens of this state for an
appropriation for such objects, is now before
1. Be it resolved by the Senate
and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey,
That our senators and representatives in congress be
requested to use their influence to obtain a
sufficient appropriation for the purpose of
constructing a light house and the anchoring of a
bell buoy as aforesaid.
2. And be it resolved, That the
governor be requested to forward a copy of these
resolutions to each of our senators and
representatives in congress.
Approved March 3, 1853.
Document No. 6, 33rd Congress, 1st Session]
On April 16, 1854,
the ship POWHATTAN, on a voyage from Harve to New
York, and carrying 250 German emigrants and others was
driven ashore during a severe Northeast storm.
The loss of life
was so great that Congress finally gave in, and on
December 5, 1854 purchased the land on which the
lighthouse would be built, from the Camden and
Atlantic Land Company for the sum of $520.00.
Work began on the
lighthouse in 1856. The surveys and plans for the
lighthouse were signed by Lt. George Gordon Meade, who
also played a role in the design and construction of
Barnegat Lighthouse. Indeed, the stories of the two
lighthouses are similar. Both were built to warn ships
of very dangerous inlets. They were built within a few
years of each other, and to very similar
specifications. Both fought extensive battles with
The lighthouse was
first lighted January 15, 1857. The engineers in
charge of the construction were General Hartman Bache,
General George Gordon Meade, and Colonel William F.
Raynolds of the Army Corp of Engineers.
Lighthouse was constructed 700 feet above mean high
water level, at what is now Pacific Avenue and Rhode
Island Avenue's block. The sea has receded so that the
lighthouse now stands over 2 blocks inshore.
The lighthouse is
167 feet tall to the focal plane of the lens, the
equivalent of a sixteen story building. Two hundred
twenty eight steps lead visitors to the base of the
light platform, and there are 12 more steps to the
Its inside diameter
is a uniform 10 feet. It was built with 598,634
bricks, and cost a total of $52,187.00 to construct.
The lamps were first
lighted the night of January 15, 1857. The lamps were
of the Funck's design and fueled with mineral oil. The
light from these lamps was intensified by a First
Order Fixed Fresnel lens. Together they projected a
beam of white light that was visible 19-20 miles at
sea in the direction of NE by N around SE to SW. The
reason for the fixed light was simple. Absecon and
Barnegat were very much sister lighthouses, having
been built to a similar architectural style. To
distinguish them at night they were given different
lens. Since Absecon was completed before Barnegat and
the machinery necessary for a fixed light is less
expensive and elaborate than that of a flashing light,
Absecon received the fixed lens. Two years later, when
Barnegat was completed, it received a flashing light
to distinguish it from its sister to the south.
When completed in
1857, the lighthouse was left in its unpainted natural
red brick color. It remained in this natural state
until 1868 when it received a coating of parge. Later
painted in 50 foot bands of white, red and white which
helped differentiate it from its white and red
neighbor to the north. In 1895, it received orange,
black and orange bands which it kept until 1948. One
reason for the change was to help the lighthouse stand
out from the red brick keeper's house. In 1948, the
lighthouse was repainted with white, blue and white
bands. In 1963, the lighthouse was repainted again,
this time back to white, red and white bands.
The first keeper was
Daniel Scull who was appointed November 25, 1856. He
was paid 600.00 annually or $11.54 a week.
The loss of shipping
continued however and at least 64 more ocean-going
craft foundered on Absecon Beach between 1847-1856.
The lighthouse was
dimmed July 15, 1933, but there was already an
agreement between the Federal Government and Atlantic
City to turn the site over to the city for use as a
park for $1.00 per year. The lighthouse was built on a
plot of ground deeded to the Government by Chaulkley
Leeds, Atlantic City's first Mayor. Ownership of the
lighthouse was transferred formally to Atlantic City
in 1946. The two original keeper's houses were
demolished and the demolition of the nearby Life
Saving Station soon followed. Unable to maintain the
lighthouse, the city sold it to the State of New
Jersey, in 1966.
After many years of
neglect, the Inlet
Public/Private Association (IPPA) raised funds
to restore the lighthouse, keeper’s dwelling and
grounds. The lighthouse is open to the public.