CAPE MAY LIGHTHOUSE RESTORATION
The last keeper of the lighthouse retired in the 1930s. After that, the beacon was automated, and the United States Coast Guard maintained the workings of the light. In the 1980s, the Coast Guard began to lease historic lighthouses to local preservation groups who could preserve and restore these important structures.
In December, 1986, through special agreement with both the Coast Guard and the State of New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, the Cape May Lighthouse was leased to the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC). A non-profit organization headquartered at the Emlen Physick Estate in Cape May, MAC assumed the responsibility of restoring the lighthouse, interpreting it as a historic site and opening it to the public.
The process of restoration took over 15 years (1987-2002), and was funded by nearly $2 million in grants, principally from the New Jersey Historic Trust and the Inter-Modal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) program, administered by the State Department of Transportation.
MAC supervised the restoration of the lighthouse windows and doors, the addition of safety improvements, the restoration of the oil house which is at the entrance to the lighthouse grounds, the restoration of the lantern roof and windows, the interior walls and staircase, an archaeological investigation that located the original privies and walkways and the restoration of the grounds.
The lighthouse has also been re-painted in its original color scheme, in which the tower is a light beige and the lantern is red.
Nearly 100,000 visitors a year now experience a visit to the top of the lighthouse, participating in a century old rite of a visit to the Jersey Shore.
1. Why is the Lighthouse leased to the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC)?
In the 1980s, the Coast Guard began a nationwide program of leasing lighthouses to private organizations, like MAC, which are capable of preserving them. In 1986, the Coast Guard leased the Lighthouse to MAC, which assumed the responsibility for its restoration, maintenance and operation as a lighthouse museum. In 1992, ownership of the Lighthouse was transferred to the State of New Jersey, in order to make the restoration project eligible for state historic preservation funding. The state monitors the historical authenticity of the restoration, and also makes available to Lighthouse visitors the parking and restroom facilities of the adjacent state park.
2. What is MAC?
MAC is a non-profit organization with nearly 4,000 members that was founded in 1970 to save and restore Cape May’s Physick Estate, and operate it as an historic house museum. The Physick Estate is also home to the Carriage House Gallery, with an array of changing exhibits, a museum shop and the Carriage House Café & Tearoom. MAC has also restored the World War II Lookout Tower (Fire Control Tower No. 23), located nearby on Sunset Boulevard. In addition, MAC promotes Cape May’s Victorian heritage through a year round schedule of special events and trolley, walking, and historic house tours. MAC is also one of the area’s leading sponsors of the performing arts, with its Cape May Music Festival every May and June. Please call 609-884-5404 for details on MAC’s calendar of events.
3. How much has it cost to restore the Lighthouse?
Over the last 22 years, close to $2 million has been spent in order to allow the public to climb safely to the top and to restore the Lighthouse and oil house.
4. Is the Lighthouse open to the public?
Yes. Hours of operation vary throughout the year. The tower is open daily, April through November, and on weekends most of the rest of the year. The grounds, ground floor, tower and watchroom gallery are open to the public. All tours of the tower are self-guided.