Cape May Point State Park
Cape May, NJ 08204
Why Should I Go? There’s something special about a lighthouse. Tall and regal, a sentinel guiding mariners back to a safe harbor. The Cape May Lighthouse is one of the oldest continually operating lighthouses in the United States. It has helped navigators enter the Delaware Bay since 1859, and is listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
In 1857, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the present lighthouse. Its design is attributed to Civil War General George Meade. The tower is made of brick, with both an exterior and interior wall. The outside wall has a diameter of 27 feet at the base and 10 feet, 6 inches at the top. The cylindrical interior wall supports the 199 step, cast-iron spiral staircase. Both walls rise 145 feet to the watch room and outside gallery, which sit beneath the lantern at the top.
The beacon was first lit October 31, 1859. Its original lamp was fueled by oil. In 1938, that lamp was replaced by an electrical beacon, which eliminated the need for lighthouse keepers. This beacon flashes every 10 seconds and is still visible 24 miles out to sea.
The United States Lighthouse Service was discontinued in 1939 and its equipment and personnel were transferred to the United States Coast Guard. As electronic navigation aids began to reduce the need for lighthouses, Cape May’s sentinel fell victim to Coast Guard budget cuts. It was reactivated at the end of the war, and has continued to serve as an active aid to navigation.
In 1983, the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), began negotiations with the Coast Guard to lease the lighthouse, with the goal of restoring it to its original condition, opening it to the public, and interpreting its history.
After that restoration was completed, MAC restored the Oil House on the Lighthouse grounds, creating a fully accessible visitors orientation center. In the Oil House, visitors who cannot climb the tower’s staircase can see the view in a vivid photo mural, reproductions of the information exhibits on display in the tower, and a 12-minute video depicting the climb to the top. The Oil House also contains the Lighthouse Museum Shop with a fascinating array of lighthouse nautical memorabilia and souvenirs.
The landmark is one of the most popular attractions on the Jersey Cape, and it has also become a popular site for weddings and engagements, as well as other gatherings.
For more information and hours of operation, contact MAC