Twin Light 1862

Twin Light 1862

1862: A good year for the lighthouse…not so good for America

Highlands, NJ – You don’t need a historical scholar to tell you that 1862 was a pretty bleak year for America. Political, economic and cultural upheaval had created a climate of fear and uncertainty. The Civil War was not going particularly well for either side, resulting in human suffering on an unprecedented scale. That spring, against this grim backdrop, the newly constructed Navesink Light Station (aka Twin Lights) went into operation with little fanfare, perhaps understandably. The imposing fortress-like structure, which was built by the Army Corps of Engineers between two existing 1828 towers, was unique at the time: a lighthouse designed to symbolize strength and permanence atop the first piece of American real estate that came into view for transatlantic ships entering New York Harbor.

The Twin Lights Historical Society is commemorating the beginning of the lighthouse’s 160th year of operation with a snapshot of 1862 in the News section of on its web site entitled 1862: A Good Year for Twin Lights…Not So Good for America. The feature story transports virtual visitors back to the year the current lighthouse was new.

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Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean in residency at Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park
Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean at Langosta

“The key word is virtual,” says Society President Jeff Tyler. “In a normal year, the Society and New Jersey State Parks would be marking such a milestone with an event or dedication or museum exhibit. But this past year has been anything but normal. On the bright side, while the Twin Lights Museum and towers have been closed to the public, we have been extremely fortunate to have maintained a constant dialogue with our fans through social media and our web site. The new 1862 feature is a great addition to the Twin Lights In 100 Artifacts series that has been running all year.”

Besides a steady stream of distressing news from the battlefield, what other news was animating the thoughts and conversations of New Jerseyans in 1862?

“People were running out of coins for one thing,” says Mark Stewart, a Society trustee who worked on the feature. “The old large cents and the new smaller copper-nickel pennies were being melted down to address wartime demand so the government had to authorize the use of postage stamps as currency. Willie Lincoln, the President’s 11-year-old son, died of typhoid, triggering fears of an epidemic. The IRS was created down in Washington. And two former presidents—John Tyler and Martin van Buren—passed away that year, which had only happened once before, when Adams and Jefferson died in 1826 on the same day.”

The Garden State’s involvement in the Civil War was very real in 1862. That August, with the Union desperate for recruits, New Jersey formed no fewer than 11 new regiments, all with nine-month tours of duty. These were nicknamed the Sunshine Regiments. Sixteen-year-old Franklin Murphy, who would be elected governor in 1901, was a member of the 13th New Jersey Infantry. The 13th went into battle at Antietam in September with fewer than three weeks training. More than 20,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing during the battle.

“Another interesting New Jersey link to the war happened in 1862, when Ellis Hamilton of Trenton became the youngest-ever Union officer, at the age of 16,” adds Jenna Paterno, the Society’s new Operations Manager/Historian. “He was the son of an influential newspaper editor. Unfortunately, he was killed in battle before he turned 20.”

Paterno collaborated with her predecessor, Joanne Sutton, during the shutdown to prepare for the site’s long-awaited reopening to be granted by New Jersey State Parks. In collaboration with New Jersey State Parks’ Resource Interpretive Specialist, Nick Wood, Paterno plans to revamp the first space in the museum gallery to showcase historic happenings in Highlands, and what day-to-day life looked like in town more than a century ago. Additionally, Paterno has made it her mission to digitize the Society’s collections to share with the public, even when artifacts are not on display in the museum.

“We are so pleased to have Jenna aboard and the transition truly has been seamless,” says Tyler, who reports that the Society’s volunteers are all anxious to return when the state gives the thumbs-up. “It’s only a four-hour shift once a week, but they really miss interacting with visitors and the camaraderie of the Twin Lights staff. When the State opens its doors to the public we hope to have both towers open regularly, so we can always use some new folks who want to be part of a great group. There is actually a button on our homepage for those who might be interested.”

To access 1862: A Good Year for Twin Lights…Not So Good for America and The Twin Lights In 100 Artifacts, please visit our website at

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