Twin Lights Guided Ships in 1800s

By Lauren Wanko

They stand united over the Atlantic — the iconic Twin Lights.

“It is one of the few twin lights in the world and the only connected twin lights in the United States,” said Twin Lights Historical Society member Mark Stewart.

Though the original towers, built in 1828, weren’t connected — that didn’t happen until the structure was rebuilt in 1862 — the beacons gave weary seafarers a sense of hope and safe passage.

“One was very bright and rotated and the other one was a fixed light so mariners and sea captains coming toward the Jersey Shore, they had to distinguish what lighthouse they were seeing, they could have been seeing the Sandy Hook light, they could have been seeing a light ship that was out in the harbor. This told them they were heading towards Highlands and the Twin Lights and they knew exactly when to take a right hand turn and find the deep water channel into New York Harbor,” Stewart said.

The South Tower’s Fresnel lens still shines today in the museum.

“It was first displayed in Chicago at the World’s Fair in 1893 and it was due to go back to France but the U.S. Lighthouse Service talked them into leaving it here and they brought it to a few cities to show how wonderful and beautiful it was,” Stewart said.

Eventually the 20,000 pound lens settled in Highlands, says Stewart.

“At one point had a 25 million candlepower beam that could be seen not only to the horizon 22 to 23 miles away, but over the horizon to 75 miles,” he said.

Twin Lights Historical Society members say kids who visit often wonder how this lens ever made it to the top of the tower in one piece. It didn’t. The lens was designed to come apart.

“No piece I think is larger than about a foot and a half or two feet so they carry each piece up and assemble at the top of the steps,” Stewart said.

The lighthouse was decommissioned after World War II. The Twin Lights Historical Society has worked to preserve the landmark since the late 1950s. A few years ago, they welcomed their 5 millionth visitor.

What is it about lighthouses that are so appealing?

“Probably mostly they’re situated on high rocky points that are beautiful,” said visitor Joseph Bernal.

Every night a light still shines from the North Tower, reminding many boaters they’re not far from home.