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.
Finally a Congressional
appropriation of $5,000 was voted upon, with the provision that a
favorable report should be received by an officer of the Navy
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 resolution.
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 be printed.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY.
JOINT RESOLUTIONS respecting a Light-House on Absecon Beach, and Bell
Buoy outside Absecom Bar.
Whereas, the 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 Congress; therefore
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.
[From Senate 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.
The Absecon 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 light-room
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 EW 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