CAPE MAY POINT — A group trying to create a new maritime museum in southern Cape May County is hoping to acquire a Delaware Bay lighthouse as one of its centerpieces.
The Cape May Maritime Museum is one of four nonprofit organizations bidding to acquire the Brandywine Shoal Light.
The light, a 1914 structure on the state and national Registers of Historic Places located about seven miles off this resort, has been made available by the U.S. Coast Guard.
A 2000 law, the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, provides a mechanism for the Coast Guard to continue maintaining aids to navigation on lighthouses and light stations while outside organizations own them for educational, cultural, recreational, park, historic preservation or other worthy purposes.
Government agencies get the first crack — and the light was offered to the borough — but then nonprofits, educational agencies, and community development organizations get a chance at owning them. If nobody is interested, they can be offered for sale to private individuals.
“It’s part of the culture and heritage we’d really like to showcase and preserve. If no nonprofit qualifies, it could then go to some wealthy person, but they haven’t had good experiences giving them to private individuals,” said Kevin Maloney, president of the Cape May Maritime Museum.
The U.S. General Services Administration is handling the disposal of Delaware Bay lights at Brandywine Shoal, Ship John Shoal and Miah Maull Shoal.
Giselle Rubiera, of the GSA, said there have been six inquiries about the Brandywine Shoal Lighthouse, including four from nonprofits. The other three are Delaware Bay Lighthouse, Inc., Elliott Communications Networks in Delaware and Asian Americans for Equality in Manhattan. The Coast Guard took interested parties to the light in September and that started a 90-day application period. Applications are due by Dec. 27.
“They have to provide the National Park Service with information on how they plan to maintain it. Maintenance can be pretty expensive. The National Park Service will review their financials, and how long they have been in business,” said Rubiera.
The new owner would get a deed and officially own the light, and at no charge, but would have to allow the Coast Guard to come and maintain the light and possibly a horn. The light also has to be made available to the nearest town for educational purposes.
Mayor Carl Schupp is following the process and said the town is proud to have the lighthouse linked to the borough. The borough supported putting the light on the New Jersey historic register in 2006 and he said the light has sort of been “assigned to Cape May Point.”
“We wouldn’t want to operate it but we’re proud to have it as part of our town. We often say we’re the only community linked to two lighthouses, although the Cape May Lighthouse is really in Lower Township,” Schupp said.
The National Park Service will decide which organization, if any, gets the light and then the GSA, a sort of federal real estate agency, would transfer the deed.
One goal of the 2000 act is to save the Coast Guard money while still preserving the nation’s lighthouses.
“We have tons of lighthouses right now. With GPS and so many high-tech things we have, we don’t really need them anymore,” Rubiera said.
The Cape May Maritime Museum is a volunteer organization that formed recently to promote the maritime heritage of southern Cape May County. It is working on building a replica of a 19th century U.S. Lifesaving Station that was once at Cape May Point before being destroyed in a winter storm. Maloney said the 1876 lifesaving station would be their base of sorts with educational programs, offices and maybe even a nautical store. Maloney said he has already talked to a party boat captain about taking tours out to the Brandywine Shoal Light, which was last manned in the 1970s.
“It was a courageous profession with waves, ice and boat collisions,” Maloney said.
Stories about what it was like to man such a light would be part of the educational program the museum hopes to create. Maloney said a lot of enthusiasts would love to visit “a lighthouse that is not landlocked.”
The first lighthouse to mark the deadly Brandywine Shoals was constructed in 1827 but was destroyed in 1828. Another was built in 1850 but it also did not last long and was replaced with a lightship.
In 1914, the three-story, 45-foot-high, castiron structure went up around a base that includes stone riprap and a cylindrical caisson foundation. The foundation is reinforced concrete rising about eight feet above sea level. It had a Fresnel lens run by an oil vapor lamp. In 1974 it was the last Delaware Bay lighthouse to be automated and it now relies on electric, with solar power.