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It is the Summer of 1896...
Lily Langtry has been seen bustling around Long Branch, the most fashionable watering place of the Jersey shore. This popular resort provides gambling, theater, boating, fine dining, and even horse racing, attracting wealthy Philadelphians, New York society, U.S. Presidents and flashy celebrities like Diamond Jim Brady.

The Monday, August 3, edition of the New York Times reports from Long Branch, N.J.: "Cool Day at the Branch. A merry party of New Yorkers among the visiting thousands, and nearly everyone in possession of a horse and carriage, or bicycle, was on the avenue."

A Rogers, Peet & Co. advertisement for gentlemen's suits lists the price as $10.50 or $11.00.

In Asbury Park, 103 trains daily bring more than 8000 people to enjoy strolling the oceanside promenade boardwalk (a New Jersey invention!). The huge Ferris wheel is a recent added attraction, as are the bright boats which can be rented for a cool row on Wesley Lake.

People are reading a recent book by Asbury Park author Stephen Crane, entitled, "The Red Badge of Courage".

The Ocean Grove Auditorium seating 9000 has one of the largest and most unique organs in the world and delights crowds with music programs each summer since 1891.

In Spring Lake, the Monmouth House Hotel is described as a nucleus for the growing settlement of summer residents. "In its immediate neighborhood are streets, cottages and churches, forming a resort conspicuous for the elegance of its exterior."

To the south is old Squan Village, now named Manasquan. The Squan Hotel, on Main Street, invites guests for supper, lodging and breakfast at $1.50 per day.

In Sea Girt, the most prominent building is The Beach House, a hotel created in 1875 by the addition of two wings on the residence of Commodore Stockton. The Parker House has rooms for 100 guests and the Tremont Hotel sleeps 200. Since the New Jersey National Guard moved its summer camp to Sea Girt in 1885, purchasing the seaside property known as Stockton Farm, "the glamour and bustle of military life and the ball given at the Beach House by the Governor and his staff make the encampment a welcome episode of the summer season."

But Big Sea Day is the most enduring celebration in Sea Girt. Years ago, local Algonquin tribes, Lenni Lenape, Navisinks and Minnesink Indians, would meet near Wreck Pond in mid-August to bathe and feast on clams. The custom survived, and now farmers from as far back as twenty miles come to camp in their wagons for a whole weekend of festivity. It is said that before the hotels attracted other visitors whose disapproval put a damper on the party, the goings on were rather "unconventional."

And now, a lighthouse is being constructed just in front of the Big Sea Day camp grounds.

The Sea Girt Lighthouse Story...
The entire section of the coast now called Sea Girt was once known as Wreck Pond. No wonder, considering the countless shipwrecks over the years in the vicinity of the Manasquan River. One source estimates 92 assorted vessels foundered along the coast during the early 1890's.

A beacon was needed to bridge the forty mile gap between the Barnegat Light and the Navasink Highlands. On March 2, 1889, the U.S. Congress authorized $20,000 for the establishment of a lighthouse at Squan Inlet (now Manasquan Inlet). The chosen site was later determined unacceptable. Delay followed delay a until finally the Sea Girt beach site was selected. It would be the last live-in lighthouse built in the United States.

On December 10, 1896, the building completed, the beacon was turned on. It flashed a red light once every second, usually visible 15 miles at sea. The keeper of the light had to wind the clock every seven and one half hours to keep the signal continually beaming.

The light was changed to white in 1901 and in 1915, electricity replaced the kerosene which fueled the lighthouse. The first radio fog beacon was installed in 1921 as an aid for ships approaching New York Harbor. Signals from Sea Girt crossed those from the Ambrose and Fire Island lightships, so ships could navigate more safely in foggy or foul weather.

There have been five station keepers. Major Wolfe from 1896 to 1903, Abram Yates from 1903 to 1910. On May 29, 1910, Harriet Yates recorded the death of her husband and assumed the duties of keeper. She faithfully kept the light until relieved two months later. Next, John W. Hawkey from 1910 to 1917, William H. Lake from 1917 to 1931, and last George J. Thomas from 1931 to 1940.

In 1936, the Coast Guard took over the lighthouse and changed the interior layout to make living space for the men stationed there. Mr. Thomas continued his keeper duties until the light was "blacked out" because of World War II.

The Lighthouse in World War II...
The Coast Guard stayed in Sea Girt in order to patrol the beaches because of the U-boat menace during the war. In 1983, the lighthouse committee received an eye-witness memoir describing the bravery of the young "Coasties" in those difficult wartime years.

"Pearl Harbor had galvanized America and the Coast Guard was striving to train kids to man the ships and stations. Help was needed fast, as the German U-boat fleet was swift to move in on America's unprotected coasts and shipping. The beaches were patrolled by men on foot and sometimes with dogs. A constant radio watch was kept and tower was always manned by sailors with binoculars. They would see the flash of light, hear the terrible roar of a tanker being blown up by torpedo attack and all they could do is report and watch. The beach was littered with ship's wreckage, rafts and fuel oil. Later I often wondered if anyone ever remembered the cold, wet, anxious nights and chilling dawns the men endured."

By the end of the war the lighthouse became obsolete for navigational purposes. In 1945 the Coast Guard took the lighthouse out of service and, in August 1956, sold it to the town. It was used by some community groups, but gradually deteriorated until it became unsafe for any function. By 1980, the borough was faced with the question of whether to ask taxpayers to pay for elaborate renovation or to raze the old building and sell the property.

The Sea Girt Lighthouse is saved!
Spurred by the concerns of many citizens and community groups, a committee was formed to "Save Our Lighthouse". After an agreement was reached with the Mayor and Council, the committee was incorporated as The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, Inc., and the the property leased for 25 years. A fund raising drive was begun immediately, with great success. Sea Girt residents, Sea Girt organizations and neighboring friends responded with enthusiasm and generosity. But a significant reason for the success of the project belongs with those dedicated people who gave so much time, talent and muscle to shuffling through the screens and shutters hidden in the basement, scraping paint off woodwork, caring for the grounds, hanging pictures, polishing, furnishing, fixing, caring.

Today the centennial is more than a celebration of 100 years. It is the culmination of historic concern for others. First, the lonely light keeper protecting those at sea. Then, the Coast Guard protecting our shore in wartime. Now, the members of the restoration effort preserving our community gathering place and protecting our link with the past.

The Lighthouse in 2002...
The lighthouse is not just a preserved historic site, it is an integral part of community life. Over 10 organizations use it regularly as a meeting place. On average, there were twenty meetings or events held at the lighthouse per month in the past year. Guided tours on Sunday afternoons attract visitors from near and far. Several nearby elementary schools have come to learn about the lighthouse as an educational "class trip" excursion.

With the many contributions of period furnishings, paintings, historic maps, local photographs, and lighthouse memorabilia, the Sea Girt Lighthouse has become almost a museum--an aspect that we hope will grow through the second hundred years.

Presented By
The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, Inc.
P.O. Box 83, Sea Girt, New Jersey 08750

Other Websites about Lighthouses:
America's Lighthouses, A personal journey, with lots of pics, and more.

www.usalights.com, A personal site with history and links to American lighthouses.
Mike's Lighthouses, A most informative sight about lighthouses worldwide.
New Jersey Lighthouse Society, Site dedicated to New Jersey Lighthouses.
Marie's Lighthouse Links

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This page was last updated on 08/30/10.

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