Old Barney

Grand Old Champion of the Tides

The original Barnegat Lighthouse was built in 1824 but by 1855, it had deteriorated considerably. Lt. George Gorden Meade reviewed the structure in that year and reported that "the tower was found to be in very bad condition; originally built of inferior materials, the mortar had decayed and fallen out."  Lt. Meade recommended that a new first-order light be built and estimated its cost at $45,135.75.  Its necessity was clearly demonstrated when the old light fell into the sea the following year.  After constructing a temporary wooden tower, Meade began the construction of the present light in 1857 and completed it a year later.  It was commissioned on January 1, 1859.  Unlike his more modern counterparts, his estimate was accurate.  The tower did cost $45,000 to build.  The lens was another $15,000, and the land set the government back $600.  This photograph was taken about 1929.

Meade, himself, would later became a Major General in the Union Army during the Civil War and was in command of the Army of the Potomac during the battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and through the end of the conflict.  


As can be seen in this and in other photographs at this site, a three-section Keepers' House
used to stand on the ocean side of the lighthouse, but it finally succumbed to the sea.
In the first photo above, just a few storage sheds remain.

The heart of a lighthouse was its lens.  Invented by a Frenchman named Fresnal, these lenses varied in size depending on the "order" of the light.  They are multi-faceted pieces of very heavy glass whose object was to focus the light from a kerosene lamp so that it would shine for miles out to sea.  Old Barney's lens was cast and ground at the St. Gabian works near Paris in 1847 and consists of 1,024 prisms of glass mounted in a brass frame.  Barnegat Lighthouse was designed to be a First Order Light, meaning that it would send its beam approximately twenty miles.  This particular lens is eight feet in diameter and stands fifteen feet high.  It is so heavy that the only way to move it is to take it apart, piece by piece.

This unique view is of the interior of the Fresnal lens and shows the lamp that had to be filled with kerosene each day and kept burning through all kinds of weather.  The Keeper had to carry a large can of fuel up the  217 winding stairs to the top each day.  He also had to polish the lens each week, and keep the rotating mechanism operating smoothly.  The lens was rotated by means of a weight on a rope that ran down through the iron central core of the stairway and worked like the mechanism of a grandfather's clock, only this one had to be wound every hour.  In severe storms, the tower would sway so badly that the lens had to be turned by hand since the mechanism would not work under such adverse conditions.

The task of a lighthouse keeper was not an easy, and, as the lighthouses were usually in remote areas, it was also a lonely one.  Sometimes, as at the Barnegat Light, the Keeper and his assistants were able to bring their families with them.  


Though it has been out of commission since 1927, Old Barney is still regarded with fondness.
It's first replacement was the Barnegat Lightship, which itself was superseded by a lighted buoy.
Modern satellite navigations and Loran have made such fixed, visual aids all but obsolete,
though there are still some functioning lighthouses on the coast.

Nothing seems quite as romantic, though, as the light shining in the darkness into a storm-tossed sea,
a warning of impending danger and a beacon of hope.


More Photographs of Barnegat Lighthouse


Photographs of Old Barnegat City


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