There are many reasons to visit the Absecon Lighthouse, not the least of which is that when you climb its 228 steps, the volunteer lighthouse keepers greet you with a hearty “Congratulations! You have just climbed to the top of the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey!” At 171 feet, the lighthouse is the third-tallest in the United States.
Construction began on the lighthouse in 1855, costing a total of $52,436.62 to build. The tower’s First-Order Fresnel lens was lit on January 15, 1857. The lens was specifically made for the lighthouse and shipped to Atlantic City from Paris. Its light could be seen for 19.5 nautical miles, warning sailors of the rocky waters of “Graveyard Inlet,” so named because of the many shipwrecks that occurred in Absecon Inlet prior to 1857.
The tower was eventually decommissioned in 1933, after which it fell into disrepair. Six decades later, in 1997, the lighthouse was restored and opened to the public as a museum in 2001.
Looking out from the top of the historic lighthouse, one can imagine what Atlantic City was like when it was first erected in the mid-19th century. Vacationers came from the nearby cities to escape the heat. They stayed in small hotels and guesthouses, ate at quaint restaurants, and strolled the modest boardwalk built in the 1880s. They wore long dresses, suits, and hats. Their swimsuits covered all but their arms and legs. Flash-forward, and now the casinos and big hotels have sprung up to create a new skyline, and tour buses bring people from all over the mid-Atlantic to gamble.
The Absecon Lighthouse stands as a reminder of what Atlantic City once was. Pictorial displays tucked into window niches talk about the tower’s history (and also act as a welcomed respite from the climb to the top). The 228 stairs are numbered and many of them have dedication plaques commemorating all the people who donated to restore the tower.
Know Before You Go
See the lighthouse's website for hours and fees. The last tower climb is always 30 minutes before closing. There's free admission for active duty military and kids under 4, as well as free parking.
There are many activities scheduled throughout the year in Atlantic City and at the lighthouse. In July and August, there is a farmers market and Wacky Wednesdays for children. In the fall, the Last Splash Festival, a mermaid and pirate-themed ocean awareness festival, is held at the Absecon Lighthouse. There are also Valentine's, Halloween, and Christmas special events held at the lighthouse.