When it was built in 1764, the mission of Sandy Hook's 105-foot-tall beacon, then named the New York Lighthouse, was to guide ships over the treacherous sandbars off the New Jersey coast and safely into the Port of New York. Originally illuminated with 45 oil lamps, the structure became the first lighthouse in the country to be hooked up to electric incandescent lamps, in 1889.
Today, the thick-walled, octagonal-shaped masonry tower still stands erect on this seven-mile-long, sea-level spit of sand at the northern end of the Jersey Shore, making it America's oldest operating lighthouse.
From the 1800s until 1974, the peninsula served as a military base, entrusted to guard the entrance to New York Harbor. In 1874, the Hook became the U.S. Army?s first weapons proving ground: Soldiers tested guns, explosives, and artillery here until 1920. Sandy Hook's historic Fort Hancock closed for good in 1972, but the brick residences built for Army officers continue to stand sentry along the bay, watching over a seven-mile, multi-use path now enjoyed by joggers, walkers, and cyclists.
Since 1974, Sandy Hook has been under the protection of the National Park Service, as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Just a 40-minute ferry ride from Wall Street, the Hook's beaches serve as a destination for wind-surfing, fishing, sunning, and swimming, with or without suits (Gunnison Beach is New Jersey's only nude beach). On summer weekends, the parking lot often fills to capacity before noon.
Sandy Hook Light, now equipped with a Fresnel lens illuminated with a 1,000-watt bulb, opens for tours every summer afternoon. And on clear nights, you can spot its glow 19 miles at sea