Friday, August 21, 2009

Twin-Lights of Navesink

My brother-in-law’s family rented a house in Sea Bright this week. So while the kids played, I decided to take a quick ride across the bridge to the Twin-Lights in Highlands, NJ – another site I have passed by innumerable times, but never stopped in.

While the current lighthouse (circa 1862) is not Revolutionary War era, the spot on which it stands was an important vantage point during the war. At 200 feet above sea level, it’s the highest point along the United States’ eastern coast. There was some sort of beacon on this site at the time and it’s likely that the hill was fortified by whichever forces controlled the area. In fact, a 17th century Dutch cannon was found on the grounds during work on the buildings.

From the top of the lighthouse, you can see over to Sandy Hook, and on a clear day all the way to Manhattan. In early July of 1778, sentinels on this spot would have watched Sir Henry Clinton lead his forces onto the Hook after the Battle of Monmouth to board boats back to New York. Look at the photo above (block out the houses) and try to imagine about 10,000 British soldiers plus cooks and wives as well as horses and artillery all making their way along the narrow path up the inlet. Part of the path had actually been washed over by a strong storm and so a makeshift "floating bridge" of small boats was strung together to allow the army's passage.

Today, the light house is a fun place to visit with school-age kids. There is a small museum and plenty of picnic tables on the grounds. But make sure you pick a sunny day for your visit. When I arrived, there was thunder in the air and access to the tower was closed as a precaution. Fortunately, the storm passed and I was able to go up to the top.

The Twin-Lights also boasted the largest-ever Fresnel lens, which is on display. The light was so bright that it kept local residents awake at night and eventually the west-facing windows of the lighthouse had to be covered.

In case you are wondering, there are twin lights so that approaching ships could distinguish it from the light on Sandy Hook a few miles to the north. The Sandy Hook Lighthouse actually dates to the colonial era and is open to visitors. But since the Hook was packed with beach-goers today, I decided to leave that trip for the off-season –yet another place where I’ve been on the grounds, but never inside the building.

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