CAPE MAY LIGHTHOUSE STRUCTURE

This is a cutaway drawing of the Lighthouse, showing the wall construction and spiral staircase.

1. How tall is the Lighthouse?

The lighthouse tower is 157 feet 6 inches tall, from the ground line to the ventilator ball on top.

 

2.  How many steps are there to the top?
There are 217 steps from the ground to the top, with 199 steps in the tower’s cast iron spiral staircase.

 

3.  How old is the Lighthouse?
The Cape May Lighthouse was built in 1859, and is the third fully documented lighthouse to be built at Cape May Point.  The first was built in 1823; the second in 1847.  The exact locations of the first two lighthouses are now underwater due to erosion.

 

4.  How thick are the brick walls?
The Lighthouse actually has two separate walls.  The outside wall is cone-shaped, and is 3 feet 10 inches thick at the bottom, and 1 foot 6 inches thick at the top.  The inside wall is a cylinder with 8.5-inch thick walls which support the spiral staircase.  The walls were designed to withstand winds several times above hurricane force.

 

5.  Is the beacon still working?
Yes.  The U.S. Coast Guard continues to operate the light as an active aid to navigation.  The light is visible 24 miles out to sea and flashes every 15 seconds.  A lighthouse’s flash pattern is called its “characteristic;” every lighthouse has its own light characteristic and exterior paint scheme (called a daymark) so that ship captains can tell them apart.

 

6.  What were the two small rooms on either side of the entrance hallway used for?
They were storage rooms that held tools,  implements and fuel for the lantern before the Oil House was built. The keeper also used one as a small office.

 

7.  Who owns the Lighthouse?
The State of New Jersey owns the Lighthouse, but the Coast Guard maintains the beacon apparatus.  The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) in Cape May leases the Lighthouse from the State with the mission of restoring the structure and operating it as a historic site.