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Sandy Hook Light
National Historic Landmark Study
Designated January 29, 1964
Sandy Hook Light was first included on the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings using the following narrative written by S. Sidney Bradford in 1963:
The tall, white lighthouse at Sandy Hook is the oldest standing light tower in the United States. Since 1764, the lighthouse's unfailing beam has befriended innumerable vessels as they have passed in or out of New York's great harbor. Because of the risks to shipping in the treacherous waters around Sandy Hook, numerous merchants in New York City pressed the colony's government for the erection of a lighthouse on the desolate point. New York's assembly answered their pleas with an act in 1761 that authorized the holding of a lottery to raise funds for the construction of a lighthouse. This lottery raised L62,600, but in 1763 another one had to be held to raise additional money. The builders finished the structure in 1764 and on June 11 its lamps were lit for the first time. New York City collected a tonnage tax of twenty two pence per ton in the following years in order to help pay for the light's maintenance.
The original tower of the Sandy Hook Light still stands. It is octagonal, with massive masonry walls that are seven feet thick at the base. The tower rises eighty-five feet above the ground and eighty-eight feet above the water. It is interesting to note that when built the lighthouse stood about five hundred feet from the northern end of Sandy Hook, now, due to the action of the water, the light is five-eighths of a mile from the point.
A light ship eight miles to the east has lessened the importance of the Sandy Hook Light. Even so, and in spite of the fact that in 1950 it was a third-order light, with a 45,000 candle-power, fixed electric light, the light continues to aid the mariner, as it has faithfully done for the last 196 years.
Present Condition: Maintained by the United States Coast Guard, the lighthouse is in excellent condition.
John T . Cunningham, The New Jersey Shore (New Brunswick, 1958), 37
George R. Putnam, Lighthouses and Lightships of the United States (Boston, 1933), 4, 11-14, 35
Edward R. Snow, Famous Lighthouses of America (New York, 1955), 115-117
U. S. Coast Guard, Historically Famous Lighthouses
(Washington, Government Printing Office, 1957), 61-62.
Present and Original Physical Appearance
The Sandy Hook Light is still housed by the original tower, built by Isaac Contro in 1764. The octagonal structure is nine stories (103') tall and tapers from a base diameter of 29' to a 15' diameter on the top level. The lighthouse is built of brick on a masonry foundation, which walls are 7' at the base. The interior diameter of the tower is constant while the width of the walls tapers. The exterior has been whitewashed.
The lighthouse is entered through a vestibule on the south side and the visitor then proceeds down a short, vaulted hall to the circular iron stairs by which the ascent to the beacon is made with the aid of a rope guy attached with iron rings to the interior wall. The tower is pierced by 13 windows, positioned in a spiral fashion. There are no windows on the north, northeast, south, or southeast sides. The windows are recessed at a standard distance from the exterior wall surface, and as the visitor ascends, their sills which are capped with masonry blocks, grow progressively more shallow.
The circular stairway terminates on the level just below the beacon platform. An iron ladder passes through the brick vaulted ceiling to the glass and steel superstructure which houses the beacon. The 45,000 candlepower beacon is approximately 4' wide and 8' high. The light itself is housed within thick circular glass lens. A circular walkway surrounds the this cupola, with its copper domed roof.
The Sandy Hook Light is located within Fort
Hancock Military Reservation in the middle of the penisula, approximately
one mile from the northern tip. New York City is directly to the north,
across Lower New York Bay. Approximately 10' southwest of the tower is
the former lightkeeper's house, a two-and-a-half story f rame house with
a hip roof . It has been converted into of f icers' quarters but is presently
The tall, white lighthouse at Sandy Hook, New Jersey was the fifth lighthouse to be built in America, when erected in 1764, and today is the oldest standing light tower in the United States. originally called the "New York Lighthouse, " its unfailing beam has befriended innumerable vessels as they have passed in or out of New York. Sandy Hook Light is presently maintained by the United States Coast Guard within the Fort Hancock military reservation.
In 1761, the merchants of New York City financed a lottery to raise sufficient funds to erect a lighthouse on Sandy Hook, to guide ships past the New Jersey Shoal into New York harbour. Built by Isaac Contro by June 11, 1764, the 105' brick and masonry lighthouse was called the "New York Lighthouse." The cost of construction was defrayed by a 22 cent per ton tax levied on ships entering the harbour.
During the, Revolution, the Americans put the light out of operation in March, 1776, so 'that the British could not benefit from it. However the enemy soon repaired the beacon and despite an attempt to destroy it by cannon fire, by an intrepid band in small boats, the light has remained lit except during the blackouts of the Second World War.
In addition to shining its beacon at night, the lighthouse communicated with lookouts on Staten Island during the day by flying a series of varicoloured shapes on top of the tower, which indicated inbound vessels at the Narrows.
Sandy Hook Light was ceded to the Federal Government in 1789. In 1823 a light ship, the Sandy Hook, was put into operation, to facilitate shipping. A light ship is still in use today, and the lighthouse is no longer listed by the Coast Guard as a seacoast lighthouse. Nontheless, Sandy Hook Light and its fellow lights at Navesink still shine, warning mariners of the dangerous shoals of the New Jersey coast.