In 1609, Captain Henry Hudson, an English explorer attempting to discover a northeast passage to the Far East, came upon the mouth of the great river that now bears his name. Before he entered the mouth of the river, sailing as far north as the place where Albany sits today, he took note of the unusual hills along the northern coast of what we call New Jersey, and the eventual home of Navesink Lighthouse.
What Henry Hudson established was that the uplands of the northern New Jersey coast were helpful aids in determining one's position relative to the mouth of the Hudson River.
This fact did not escape the attention of subsequent mariners in general and, some years later, of the United States Government in particular. So it came as no surprise to anyone that, in 1828, the federal government built a light station on the commanding, 200-foot New Jersey hills that Hudson had first surveyed.
To help distinguish the Navesink Lighthouse from others to the north and south, officials erected two octagonal towers, which were separated by a distance of about 320 feet.
The Navesink station was given high priority when it came to new technology.
In 1841, the two towers were given the country's first Fresnel lenses, imported from France and over nine feet in diameter.
So successful were these lenses in intensifying the twin lights that they could soon be found on lighthouses up and down the Atlantic coast. (Unfortunately, one of Navesink's historic lenses was damaged by vandalism at the Navesink Lighthouse Museum in 1991. It has since been repaired.)
The Navesink Lights were rebuilt in 1862. The south tower was given a square shape, while the north tower was octagonal. Centered between them was a fortress-like building, with huge flanking walls extending to either tower. The whole massive affair was made of brownstone and resembled a gigantic medieval castle, complete with turrets.
All of this elaborate design was intended to help mariners distinguish the Navesink Lighthouse from the Sandy Hook Lighthouse a few miles to the north. Any confusion could prove fatal, as a ship captain might turn his vessel toward the west prematurely, thinking he was approaching New York, and wind up grounded off the New Jersey coast.
In 1898, the north Navesink tower was decommissioned, and the south tower became the first lighthouse in the United States to use an electrically powered lighting device. The south tower continued serving mariners until 1953, when it was also decommissioned.
Today only a small, memorial-like beacon remains on the south tower, paying quiet homage to the historic role these twin lights played in developing and protecting commerce along the eastern seaboard.
One little-known but fascinating fact about the Navesink Lighthouse is that it was adopted as the official symbol of the American Army Corps of Engineers, who constructed it in 1862. For well over a century, the Navesink Lighthouse has been worn as an emblem on that service's jackets and caps.
The Navesink Lighthouse, which is also known locally as the Twin Lights, is easily visited. In fact, each year over 90,000 people visit the old lighthouse and its accompanying museum.
The station site, now a New Jersey state park, offers a commanding view of the Atlantic Ocean and the nearby coast. It is a good place to come, as many do, when the crowded steel and concrete canyons of the big city have grown wearisome and the soul feels the simple need for open skies, fresh sea breezes, and distant, unbroken horizons.