‘Old Barney’ continues to keep watch in Long Beach Island

You can’t miss it. The Barnegat Lighthouse, once considered a great protector of seafarers, still stands to this day on the northern tip of Long Beach Island.

“We’re one of the prime lighthouses in New Jersey and we get a lot visitors for the lighthouse, over 80,000 last year,” said Cynthia Coritz, superintendent of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. “There were over 600,000 in the park.”

The lighthouse is located within the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. The 32-acre park just turned 60-years-old.

“Just coming in to the park and getting away from that parking lot and getting out and seeing the ocean and sand it takes you into another dimension,” explained Coritz.

“It’s something people don’t expect when they come on a barrier island,” explained Rick Dutko, facility manager of the Forest Education Center, part of the New Jersey Forest Service.

There’s more than the sound of gentle waves and smell of salt air. The park is home to a maritime forest that dates back to the early settlers, according to Dutko.

“What you’re seeing here is one of only three areas on LBI that was forested when Europeans first came to the site,” Dutko explained. “Maritime Forest in New Jersey is a very rare habitat, there’s very few of them left. They form on barrier islands, which is a very harsh environment for trees.”

Towering over those trees is the lighthouse, often referred to as ‘Old Barney’. It was built in the 1850s and designed by George Meade, who later became famous for the Battle of Gettysburg. ‘Old Barney’ replaced a smaller tower that was considered inadequate.

“He fought for the best technology of the times, which was a modern Fresnel lens built by a French physicist. And he said, ‘We need a first order Fresnel lens which is the most powerful,'” Charlotte Banks, a trustee at Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park explained about Meade.

The original lens is on display at the Barnegat Light Schoolhouse Museum. Visitors can climb more than 200 steps to the top of the lighthouse.

‘Old Barney’ was decommissioned in 1927. The staff once lived there.

The keeper’s home was quite large: 18 rooms. It needed to be, because three families lived inside of it; the lighthouse keeper and his two assistants. But, sadly, it doesn’t stand now.

“The severe storms of 1919 to 1920 caused a lot of erosion around the base of the lighthouse keeper’s home, so the lighthouse board decided to auction it off for its parts,” said Banks.

The Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, a nonprofit dedicated to educating visitors and enhancing the park, purchased a modern Fresnel lens and re-lit ‘Old Barney’ on January 1, 2009 — 150 years to the date of the original lighting.

“Eight thousand people showed up to witness the relighting of Barnegat Lighthouse that’s how special it was to people,” Banks remembered. “It gives you a sense of welcoming home, it gives you a sense of safety and someone’s there to protect you.”

And now, the light continues to shine every evening.