How the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse Has Guided North Wildwood for Over a Century

By Erin Drumm

Header image is a historical photo of the lighthouse.

The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse sits beautifully along the North Wildwood seawall. It draws visitors from far and wide because of its gardens and ocean views, but beyond its beauty, the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is home to a rich history and vibrant community.

Before the lighthouse was built, the Hereford Inlet was primarily used by whalers who used the inlet to butcher their catches. As the inlet gained popularity among shippers and whalers, more shipwrecks began to occur. To fix this problem and to make the inlet’s shore safer, the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse was built.

The lighthouse was designed by Paul J. Pelz, the same man who designed the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. The lighthouse first brought light to North Wildwood in 1874. In 1913, the lighthouse was so severely damaged by a storm that it was moved westward 150 feet. Today, there is a marker where the first lighthouse was built along the sea wall.

The lighthouse stands at 49.5 feet and its light visibly travels 13 nautical miles on clear nights.

In 1964, the lighthouse’s light was put out of use, and a metal tower with a rotating beacon was placed behind the lighthouse.

Moira Fanning and Neil Mac Thiarnáin’s wedding at the lighthouse. Photo by Tom Keenan.

Former North Wildwood Mayor Anthony Catanoso and his wife Phyllis obtained a lease to the lighthouse for the City of North Wildwood from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 1982. They began restoration efforts on the lighthouse with help from community volunteers.

In 1986, the light from the metal tower was placed in the lighthouse and the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse was once again helping mariners safely navigate the seas.

The lighthouse was the first permanent structure built on Five Mile Beach. A lighthouse keeper had to live in the area to maintain the building. There was nothing else in the area in 1874 so the lighthouse was built with a house around it to give the lighthouse keeper a place to live.

Since there was no railroad connection to the mainland until 1884, people had to travel by boat. The first lighthouse keeper, John Marche, went to the mainland for supplies and was caught in a storm on the journey back to the lighthouse. He drowned off the coast of the Hereford Inlet.

Freeling Hewitt, a lighthouse keeper who took the position later in 1874, had better luck than Marche, and served as the lighthouse keeper for 45 years.

The lighthouse as it stands today.

Scott Jett, North Wildwood City Historian says that “the lighthouse has been intimately connected with North Wildwood since the foundation of our municipality in 1885.”

Today, the lighthouse is used by the United States Coast Guard as an Aid to Navigation and is managed by volunteer residents of the community that make up the City of North Wildwood’s Historical Commission. The gorgeous gardens are maintained by the City of North Wildwood’s Building, Parks, and Grounds department.

Many engagements and weddings also take place at the lighthouse every year, drawing couples to its gorgeous gardens and location.

Moira Fanning and Neil Mac Thiarnáin got married at the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse on June 4th.

“It was perfect. Everything was beautiful. The lighthouse was beautiful. The garden was gorgeous. Everything was perfect!,” Fanning said.

Moira is from Mayfair, Philadelphia and Neil is from Ardboe, County Tyrone, Ireland. Moira and Neil met at the Anglesea Pub where they were introduced to one another by the pub’s owner, Sean McMullan. Today, Moira and Neil perform at the Anglesea Pub every Friday night from 9-12.

They pass through Hereford Inlet Lighthouse gardens on their way to the beach and their kids, Lucy, Brian, and Frances, love it. Moira and Neil have always been fond of the lighthouse and now it is an important part of their story. They were overjoyed to have family, including Neil’s family from Ireland, gather at the lighthouse.

“Neil’s from Tyrone, Ireland and his whole family came over. It was so special to have them there and share that with them and show that to them. Them being from Ireland, they had never seen it [the lighthouse] before. And all of our photos with them and everything and having the kids see us get married there. It’s just really important. It’s so special to us,” Fanning said.

The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is important to so many people for many different reasons. People like Moira and Neil who tie the knot at the lighthouse have found it to be an incredibly special place. Others may visit its beautiful gardens and make memories with loved ones. The lighthouse also draws tourists and locals alike to its grounds and continues to serve as an important landmark in North Wildwood.

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