By John Burton
SANDY HOOK — The iconic lighthouse standing over historic Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook is undergoing some repairs to ensure its future.
The National Park Service announced last week the 253-year-old lighthouse would be closed to the public from Monday, Sept. 25 until Monday, April 30, 2018, so workers could complete a repair and restoration project.
Jennifer Cox, National Park Service supervisory park ranger for the Division of Interpretation, said the lighthouse has no real structural issues. “The overall condition is fine,” she said. The project will restore some masonry walls; the metal walls in the lantern areas; replace or repair metal roofing; replace the wooden windows; and shore up some internal loose bricks.
A major part of the work will be giving the structure’s exterior something of a makeover. Workers erected a scaffolding on Monday to commence the work that includes cleaning up the staining that occurs on traditionally white exterior walls. That staining, “which most people have seen for years and years,” is on the top portion, Cox said. The dark reddish staining is believed to be the result of rain water mixing with rust on the metal walls and roof and spilling over, she explained. “We’re hoping with this restoration we’ll be able to fix that problem.”
Another major portion of the work is the installation of a new storm drainage system. That work, Cox said, is to address the ongoing problem of water seeping into the lighthouse.
The location is being closed off to the public for safety considerations. “We want all of our visitors to be safe,” she said.
The work, costing slightly less than $1 million, is being done with National Park Service funding, according to Cox.
The lighthouse is the longest continually operating and still standing one of the 11 lighthouses first constructed in the original 13 colonies. Situated at the former military installation, the Fort Hancock historical site, at the northern end of the park service’s Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, the lighthouse stands 73 feet tall – or 103 feet if you factor in the lightning rod on the house’s cap. Its beacon was first turned on June 11, 1764, intended to help guide seafaring traffic into New York Harbor. The structure was constructed with granite, contributing to its longevity, park ranger and historian Tom Hoffman told The Two River Times in 2014.
It continues to be a major draw for the federal park, attracting about 35,000 visitors annually, according to Cox. “It’s a national landmark, so it draws quite a number of people,” literally bringing in people from around the country, as well as from all over the world, she said. When the site is open, park rangers conduct regular tours, including allowing the public to venture up the 95 steps to the lighthouse’s observation deck, which offers a remarkable view of the area.
The lighthouse keeper’s quarters, located right next to the structure, will remain open, continuing to serve as the park’s visitor’s center, Cox said.
This article was first published in the Oct.5-12, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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