In the 1930s, Navesink’s importance diminished because of the improved lightships marking the approaches to the New York Harbor. New technology, such as radar and improved floating buoys, eventually made this powerful coastal light unnecessary. The U.S. Coast Guard turned off the lights at Navesink in 1949 and closed up the station. Five years later, the town of Highlands, New Jersey, acquired the lighthouse to use as a museum and public park. The Twin Lights Historical Society was formed to establish a museum at the light station and to train volunteers to staff it. When the town could no longer take care of the lighthouse, the State of New Jersey stepped in. The New Jersey State Park Service, working with the Twin Lights Historical Society, and other organizations, collected close to a million dollars to restore the buildings at the light station in the late 1970s. Later, the museum exhibits were improved to focus on the history of the lighthouse and its contribution to lighting technology and navigation. Today the structure’s fortress-like architecture provides an interesting contrast to other historic lighthouses and modern navigational aids. Each year 100,000 people visit this New Jersey State Park and Historic Site.
The Robbins Reef Lighthouse is still an active aid to navigation today, but there are no resident keepers. In November of 1964, the New York Times newspaper printed an article stating that the Robbins Reef Lighthouse, along with another nearby lighthouse, were to be automated. The U.S. Coast Guard, which began maintaining aids to navigation in 1939, planned to lay electric cables under the water from the mainland to the lighthouses. After the cables were put in place and tested a year later, the lighthouse no longer needed to be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the time of the automation, Robbins Reef was home to a team of four men. Three men were always at the station and the other was on leave. The men worked eight hour shifts with 16 hours off and at least one man was awake at all times. They served for a few weeks to a month before receiving four to five days off to go ashore. The Robbins Reef Lighthouse is currently owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, and a modern, plastic light in the lantern functions year-round. The Coast Guard goes out to the light every couple of months for maintenance or when they detect a problem with the light. Although the lighthouse is closed to the public, it can be seen from the Staten Island Ferry.
1. How are Navesink Lighthouse and Robbins Reef Lighthouse similar? How are they different?
2. Look carefully at Photo 2. Can you see the rocky outcropping that the lighthouse is built on? Where is the foundation of the first lighthouse? Where is the lantern where the lens was located? Can you find the fog bell and the fog horn?
3. The small white boat suspended above the water was used by the keepers when they went to the mainland. How difficult do you think it would have been for one person to row a boat like this when the weather was bad?
4. Why was Navesink deactivated? Why do you think Robbins Reef is still operating?
5. Why do you think people wanted to save Navesink Lighthouse after it was deactivated?