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Conover Front Range Light

As an intern for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Justin Montana has dedicated a great amount of time to research and site interpretation. His findings below are a glimpse into some of the work Justin has completed during his time at the Twin Lights Historic Site. Justin is a recent graduate of Monmouth University, with his Master's Degree in History. His areas of interest are Civil Rights, New Jersey history, and the history of pop culture.


General Overview


The Conover Front Range Light was built in 1856 in Leonardo, New Jersey, to act as the partner to the Chapel Hill Rear Range Light in Chapel Hill, New Jersey. These “Range Lights” were positioned in such a way that, when they visually aligned, it meant that a sailor was safely centered in Sandy Hook Bay. The Conover Beacon gets its name from Rulif Conover, who sold the Government the land the beacon was built on in 1852.


In the 1860s it was found that the original wooden beacon was in need of considerable repairs, which also granted an opportunity to adjust the tower’s height, as it had been built about 10 feet too tall for its location. After several years of difficulty in receiving proper funding, a new wooden beacon was built in 1876.


In 1924, both Conover and Chapel Hill received electric lights. Before this, Conover had originally made use of Colza Oil, a plant based oil, when it was built, and then switched to petroleum in 1880. The electrification also marked the abolition of the Lightkeeper position at both stations.


The biggest change to the Conover Beacon came in 1941, when they replaced the original wooden tower with a Skeletal Tower. This beacon had previously served as the Point Comfort Front Range Light before being moved to Leonardo. This is the Conover beacon that stands to this day.


Both Conover and Chapel Hill were decommissioned in 1957, with the former being fenced off and left in its original location. In the following decades, the management of the Conover Beacon has been handled by Middletown Township, with help from the citizens group “The Friends of Conover Beacon Society” and Monmouth County, with plans to restore the tower to its previous state.


Point Comfort


Point Comfort Front Range Light was one of many Range Lights in New Jersey, having been built in Keansburg, NJ in 1855, alongside its partner, the Waackaack Rear Range. The original tower was very similar to the Chapel Hill Light in that it more closely resembled a private residence than a classical tower. Point Comfort only had 4 keepers, due in part to the third keeper, Thomas Compton, having a particularly long tenure of 45 years. Its light signal was always a Static White Light.


A new, short, skeletal tower was later built next to the original building. The exact date the tower was constructed and installed is currently unknown, but records suggest it was done at some point in 1927. This structure would serve as part of the Waackaack Range until 1941, when it was moved to Leonardo, NJ, to become the new Conover Beacon. While the skeletal tower lives on to this day, the wooden tower was eventually demolished.


Decommissionings


The Conover Beacon had its light extinguished and relit twice before its final decommissioning. The first of these darkenings was in mid-1898, being one of several lighthouses that were put out during the Spanish-American war. It was inactive for a period of 5 months, being relit in August of 1898.


The first decommissioning was in 1923, when there was an attempt to replace the range lights with gas-lit buoys. However, local seamen quickly began to complain about the loss of the two lights, as the drifting of the currents in local channels greatly hindered the buoys’ accuracy. After four months, Chapel Hill and Conover were recommissioned.


The Conover Beacon’s final decommissioning was in 1957, alongside its partner light at Chapel Hill. While Chapel Hill was later sold and turned into a private residence, the Conover Beacon was fenced off to the public and left in place, where it remains today.


Day Markers


Conover’s signature daytime marker was a white tower with a red stripe in the center; this looks to have always been the colors used for the tower. Other daytime markers were added in 1874, with the addition of two 20 by 25 foot tall black screens alongside the tower. These were later replaced in 1904 with slightly larger screens (20 by 30 feet) that were white with black X’s painted on them. The reason for these additions was to make the tower more visible when it snowed.


The main difference came from the changeover from the original wooden tower to the Point Comfort skeletal tower in 1941. The wooden tower was wider, with an octagonal shape. The skeletal tower was a notably thinner, circular tower made of metal, surrounded by support beams to help keep it upright in harsh weather. The skeletal tower and its supports were painted the same white, red, white combination as the original tower when installed, having originally been pure white. They also removed the wooden screens that acted as additional daymarks during the changeover.


Light Signals


For the majority of the Conover Beacon’s life, it had a static, white light, the same signature as the Chapel Hill light. This changed in 1945, a few years after they introduced the skeletal tower. The beacon then gained a new signature of a 2 second long green flash, followed by 2 seconds of darkness. This changed slightly in 1953, with the same light signature, but now only being visible when on the Range Line (can only be seen when the two range lights are aligned). Records indicate they used this signal until 1987, when the beacon went dark.

Daymark

Light Signature

1856-1874

55’ Octagonal Wooden

Tower, paint pattern of White, Red, White

​Fixed White Light

1874-1876

55’ Octagonal Wooden

Tower, paint pattern of White, Red, White

Two 20’x25’ wooden screens, painted black

Fixed White Light

​​1876 - 1904

New, 45’ Octagonal Wooden Tower, paint pattern of White, Red, White

Two 20’x25’ wooden screens, painted black

Fixed White Light

1904 - 1941

45’ tall Octagonal Wooden Tower, paint pattern of White, Red, White

Two 20’x30’ wooden screens, painted white with black X’s

Fixed White Light

1941 -1945

20’ Skeletal Tower, paint pattern of White, Red, White


Fixed White Light

1945 - 1953

20’ Skeletal Tower, paint pattern of White, Red, White

2 seconds Green Light, 2 seconds Dark

1953 - 1987

20’ Skeletal Tower, paint pattern of White, Red, White

2 seconds Green Light, 2 seconds Dark (Range line only)


Keepers


The Conover Beacon had 10 primary keepers, with no assistant keepers. While the lives of these men are mostly obscured by the passage of time, official documents can give us a glimpse into them, alongside the dates they worked at Conover. Please note that when it comes to the records for later keepers, the information on their exact starting and ending years is not as well documented, so the dates listed are approximations:


Mark L. Mount (1855 - 1861) was the first keeper, who was appointed in 1855. The Conover Beacon is the only lighthouse he’s known to have kept.


Taber Chadwick (1861 - 1869) is the keeper who worked at the fewest other stations, being transferred to the Twin Lights of Navesink in 1869. However, his tenure there was short, as he was dismissed from the position in 1872 after it was discovered he abandoned his post at night.


Charles Grossinger (1869 - 1872) is one of the multiple keepers to only work at Conover’s Range Light. No other information about him is currently known.


Samuel V. Bartelson (1872 - 1872) had the shortest tenure of only a few weeks before retiring.


John Biddle Swan (1872 - 1888) was dismissed from the Conover Beacon in 1888. This was to his confusion, as he had never received any form of demerit during his tenure. When writing to the Navy Department to find out why, they stated that “The reason was unknown”. Despite this dismissal, and his subsequent eviction from the property, the lack of a suitable successor meant that Swan had to continue maintaining the beacon for several additional weeks.


Samuel A. Foster (1888 - 1907) has the longest tenure at the Conover beacon, having worked there for 19 years.


John Dahlman (1907 - 1910) is one of only two Conover keepers to work at both stations in the Conover range light duo, the other being the final keeper, Peter M. Peterson. Both men started at Chapel Hill before eventually being transferred to Conover.


Olof Olsson (1910 - at least 1913) is known to have worked at two other Light Stations before coming to Conover. Currently no other information is known about Olsson.


Ernest R. Bloom (at least 1917 - at least 1921) was tied for working at the most stations besides Conover with Peter M. Peterson, with both having worked at 5 other sites. Bloom is also the only Conover keeper to have also worked on a lightship.


Peter M. Peterson (at least 1924) was the final keeper at Conover before its electrification, after which the position of Keeper at both it and Chapel Hill were abolished.



Images


Point Comfort Skeletal Schematic 1: Skeleton Steel Tower Elevation, dated 1924-07-31


Point Comfort Skeletal Tower Schematic 2: Skeleton Steel Tower Lantern, Ladder, Roof & Ventilator, dated 1924-07-24


Point Comfort Skeletal Tower Schematic 3: Skeleton Steel Tower Foundation & Overhead View, dated 1924-07-24


Postcard showing the eventual Conover skeletal beacon in its original position in Point Comfort, sometime before 1941


Postcard showing the eventual Conover skeletal beacon in its original position in Point Comfort, date between 1930 - 1941


Picture showing the eventual Conover skeletal beacon in its original position in Point Comfort, dated 1940