Department of Environmental Protection

New Jersey State Park Service

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Historic Site Overview

Discover unparalleled vistas and the history of the best and brightest light in North American for generations of seafarers.

Nowhere else on the Eastern seaboard have humans and nature conspired to produce such a vista with views of the Atlantic Ocean, Sandy Hook, and the New York City skyline from the top of the towers and grounds. But that is just one of the reasons people come to connect with the unique combination of lighthouse history, nature, and technology at Twin Lights State Historic Site. The Navesink Light Station, today known as Twin Lights, is also home to a museum and programs that connect visitors with New Jersey’s nautical and commercial past.

Twin Lights holds a prominent place in American maritime history as the first lighthouse to use the Fresnel lens. In 1841, two of these revolutionary lighthouse lenses were installed: a "first-order" fixed light in the South Tower and a "second-order" revolving light in the North Tower. With the installation of these beehive-shaped Fresnel lenses made of stacked prisms, Twin Lights became the best coastal light in America.

The Fresnel lenses originally installed in 1841 were removed with the lighting of new ones in 1862.

Twin Lights reclaimed its place as the brightest lighthouse in the United States in 1898 thanks to an enormous electric-arc bivalve lens installed in the South Tower. Its beacon was visible for 22 miles and, under certain conditions, could be seen reflecting in the night sky 70 miles away. The new light was so bright that the North Tower was taken out of service.

With the development of automated lights, offshore light towers, radar and other technological navigation equipment in the 20th century, staffed lighthouses gradually became obsolete. After 121 years of service, the Navesink Light Station was decommissioned and eventually extinguished.

Twin Lights no longer guides ships into New York Harbor, but it stands as a formidable reminder of the important role lighthouses played in the maritime and navigational history of this country. Twin Lights is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

Over the years, more than a dozen Principal Keepers and 70 assistants helped keep the lights in order. Their primary duty was to maintain the light from sunset to sunrise. Other duties included trimming the wick, winding the clockwork mechanism that rotated the light, replenishing the oil supply, and later ensuring the machinery in the powerhouse was operating throughout the night. The keepers also had to maintain the buildings and grounds.

At times, a keeper's life was an arduous one. In January 1875, three assistant keepers requested that the night watch be divided into three shifts ". . . owing to the extreme dampness and cold existing in the Towers." At other times, it could also be a perilous one. In 1883, a keeper accidentally set himself on fire while lighting the South Tower light.

Lighthouse keepers received little formal training. Many were former sea captains, sailors or military men who were appointed to their positions by the federal government. Yearly salaries were based on experience and rank, ranging from $400-$600 in 1861, to a top salary of $1,000 in 1921.

The keepers and their families lived in quarters specifically designed for this purpose. The Principal and First Assistant Keepers had the most spacious quarters with four to five rooms each located in the center section of the lighthouse. The other two assistants lived in the gallery sections of either end of the building. Such modern conveniences as indoor plumbing, electricity and central heating were not installed until the 1920's.

Twin Lights' elevation made it an ideal spot to conduct other communication activities not associated with the lighthouse. In 1829, the Merchant's Exchange erected a semaphore tower here. The tower relayed messages between incoming ships and the Exchange's office in Manhattan, NY.

In 1899, Guglielmo Marconi placed an antenna and receiving station at the lighthouse to demonstrate his wireless telegraph. His first demonstration was reporting on the America's Cup yacht races occurring off the tip of Sandy Hook, making Twin Lights the nation's first wireless telegraph station capable of sending and receiving messages on a regular commercial basis.

The United States Army also saw the value of using Twin Lights as a test site for experimental electronics. In the 1920's and 30's, various radar devices, developed at nearby Ft. Monmouth, were tested here. Many of these prototypes were later used in the early days of World War II.

Facilities for People with Disabilities
The visitor center and grounds are ADA accessible. The lighthouse towers are not wheelchair accessible and the accessible restroom is available upon request at the visitor’s center desk.

For the Comfort and Enjoyment of All
This historic site / park is part of the NJ State Park system and your cooperation with the following will help ensure the survival of the museum collections, historic structures & features and surrounding property for the enjoyment and education of future generations!

  • Keep your historic site / park and surrounding property clean and green! Protect this site by taking your trash with you. Whatever you carry into the site, plan on carrying it out too. Bring a bag or two for trash, recycling and cleaning up after your pet. There are no trash receptacles at this site. Thank you!
  • No Smoking on NJ State Park Service Property. Pursuant to N.J.P.L.2005, c.383 (C.26:3D-56)
  • Alcoholic beverages are not permitted at state historic sites [ N.J.A.C. 7:2-2.6]
  • The collection or removal of any object from State Park property is prohibited without written permission from the Superintendent.
  • Use of metal detecting devices on or unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) on or over the property is not permitted without a special use permit (SUP) from the State historic site / park.
  • Commercial photography is not permitted on the property without a special use permit (SUP) from the historic site / park.
  • Interior photography, videotaping or audio taping are not permitted in the historic structure / visitor center / museum, except by prior written permission and for educational purposes only.
  • Non-commercial photography is permitted on the property (outside), but please help preserve the historic site / park and any surrounding property by not attaching anything to, climbing or sitting on historic structures and features or disturbing any plants, wild or cultivated. Photography may not interfere with other visitors to the historic site / park or impede site operations.
  • Food and beverages; pets/animals, except for service animals, are not permitted in the historic structure / visitor center / museum.
  • Please refrain from touching objects/furnishings in and building components of historic structures and museums, except where invited to do so by staff.

Please contact this historic site / park with specific inquiries about any of these restrictions, as there may be some variations at this specific historic site / park.

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Related Links

Cheesequake State Park
Leonardo State Marina

General

Phone Number
732-872-1814

Address
2 Light House Rd
Highlands, NJ 07732

Historic Site Hours

Grounds Hours 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Lighthouse Hours 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Wednesday – Sunday (Last climb 3:50 p.m.)
Tours by appointment Wednesday – Saturday with start times between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Contact Nicholas.Wood@dep.nj.gov to schedule a tour. 

Park Fees

Entrance Fee None

Lighthouse Tower Climb Fee
$5 per person over 12

Other Related Fees
Map / Directions

GPS Coordinates
40.396585, -73.986215