Trustee Bill Mountford, a descendant of the longest-serving Sea Girt Lighthouse keeper, and trustee Jude Meehan, an active docent and a collector of historic artifacts that have been displayed at the lighthouse, were recently installed as president and vice president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee.
“I am very thankful to be given such a great honor and look forward to the challenges that lie ahead,” said President Mountford, the great-grandson of William (Pappy) Lake, who served as Sea Girt’s light keeper from 1917-1931.
Mayor Ken Farrell administered the oath of office to the new officers and the trustees elected to the 18-member board at the annual meeting of the SGLCC membership, held May 20 at the lighthouse. Joining the board was architect Richard Graham. While new to the board, Richard is a longtime lighthouse member and volunteer who probably knows the historic building better than anyone, having overseen the original restoration in the 1980s.
Debby Vincent retired from the board of trustees after 16 years of service, during which time she held several important positions, including recording secretary the last 10 years. She was thanked for her many contributions to lighthouse preservation effort and was applauded by the membership.
State of the Lighthouse
The installation followed the traditional State of the Lighthouse report by the outgoing president, Virginia Zientek. While noting “our building continues to need care,” she detailed the successful completion of several projects, including installation of double-paned windows in the parlor and keeper’s office and tower watch room above.
Storms, high winds and blowing sand take their toll on the exterior, which is constantly being monitored. In response, the hand-made paneled wooden storm door was stripped and several coats of marine varnish applied and the original wooden front door was repainted and cracks sealed. Also, three panes of glass in the lantern room, which were leaking due to cracks in the old caulk, were resealed inside and out, making them watertight.
“This ongoing effort has sealed the building from the elements,” noted Mrs. Zientek. Cracks in the ceiling of the Willetts Room, where the Fresnel lens is displayed, developed during Hurricane Sandy. The lens was undamaged and briefly moved out of the room while the ceiling was repaired and the room repainted. The Fresnel display is back in place and continues to be the centerpiece of the collection and the artifact most frequently photographed by visitors, during Sunday tours which are now under way.
Also during Mrs. Zientek’s tenure, the extensive and growing lighthouse archives were catalogued and organized in secure archival cabinets. Artifacts were added to the exhibits. The archives, which cover the Lighthouse Service years, the Coast Guard era, the Morro Castle fire and rescue and bygone Sea Girt, have been made available to researchers. Among the visiting researchers were three middle school students from Bergen County who examined the Morro Castle material, which was used in their 2013 National History Day entry, which won regional and state honors, and an invitation to the national competition in Washington, D.C.
In concluding her report, Mrs. Zientek said: “I am grateful for the opportunity to have served the lighthouse.”
President Mountford thanked Mrs. Zientek “for all she has accomplished. It will make my job that much easier with the strides she took and the care she gave this treasured community landmark.”
“One of my first goals will be to secure historical items for the lighthouse, to add to our already robust offerings,” noted Mr. Mountford. Top of the list is a Lighthouse Service keeper’s uniform, identical to the double-breasted blue tunics and matching trousers worn at that time by Navy officers. The keeper uniforms were distinguished by USLHS markings the distinctive keeper’s hat, like a train conductor’s cap, with the USLHS device of an embroidered lighthouse in silver thread above a laurel in gold thread.
Also of interest are tools used by keepers to keep the light burning bright, as well as early chart books and maps of the Lighthouse Service identifying Sea Girt Lighthouse, which was built in 1896 and flashed its first light December 10 of that year, illuminating a dark space that mariners previously encountered in storms and fogs when they were out of range of Navesink Twin Lights to the north and Barnegat Lighthouse to the south.
Mr. Mountford and Mr. Meehan have had a longstanding interest in the lighthouse collection and the carefully arranged displays of artifacts that combine to tell the lighthouse story. Mr. Mountford and his family donated historic photos, now on display, of his great-grandfather, Pappy Lake. Mr. Mountford also donated the hand-held oil lamp that Pappy used at night in tower and house in the days before electrification. The tower beacon was electrified in 1924, but the house not until 1932.
Mr. Mountford and his family have also contributed photos of his grandfather Elvin Lake, known to all at Toots, who grew up at the lighthouse as the keeper’s son, and was one of six Sea Girt lifeguards who saved 15 people in the Morro Castle fire and rescue September 8, 1934.
Mr. Meehan, who personally collects Lighthouse Service and military artifacts, including Coast Guard items, has exhibited numerous interesting items from his collection at lighthouse events. At last fall’s Lighthouse Challenge, he displayed maritime signal flags from the porch of the type issued by the Lighthouse Service to the Sea Girt keeper in 1899. He also pitched an Army tent on the property, recalling the 1943 encampment on the lighthouse lawn by four soldiers assigned temporarily to beach patrol. Mr. Meehan, who attends shows where collectors and antique dealers gather, is on the lookout for items that would fit in the lighthouse collection.
Lighthouse Book Author Featured Speaker
The business portion of the annual meeting concluded within 30 minutes, followed by the much-anticipated slide presentation and talk by lighthouse trustee and historian Bill Dunn on his just-published book, Sea Girt Lighthouse: The Community Bulletin.
The definitive history of the shore landmark engagingly recounts the stories of the keepers and Coast Guardsmen who operated the important lighthouse in peace and in war, and the preservationists who saved it for all to enjoy. The book is illustrated with 110 images, many historic photos never before published.
Mr. Dunn discussed some of his many discoveries made during more than a year of research and showed more than half the book’s images. “A lighthouse of distinction, Sea Girt Lighthouse not only survived but thrived over more than a century, meeting the challenges of changing missions through the ingenuity and determination of many dedicated people who served here,” he said.
A collection of colorful keepers kept the light burning bright, including a Civil War veteran, the son of a lighthouse keeper, a mother with four children, an inventor, and for 24-hours the 20-year-old daughter of the last keeper. During World War II, vigilant Coast Guardsmen extinguished the beacon, standing watch in the tower and patrolling the beaches looking for enemy ships known to be in local waters.
After the war, the building was purchased by the Borough and used as the library and recreation center. And for the past three decades, the volunteer preservationists of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee have maintained and operated the building, preserved its history and kept it alive with activity.
At the conclusion of the presentation, the meeting was adjourned. All repaired to the first floor for refreshments and lively conversation. Mr. Dunn was in the parlor, signing copies of the book purchased by members.
The 192-page book is available at the lighthouse during Sunday tours, $21.99 per copy. It can also be purchased by mail for $26.99 to cover purchase and handling. Checks may be sent to SGLCC, P.O. Box 83, Sea Girt, NJ 08750. The book is also available through Amazon.com and the website of the publisher, The History Press (https:historypress.net). All sales royalties go to SGLCC for lighthouse operations.