Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2016

Mays Landing Lighthouse Faces Uncertain Future

By Timothy Harrison

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Back in the 1940s, beautiful hymns were broadcast from speakers atop the Lake Lenape Lighthouse in Mays Landing, New Jersey. But, that was in another time and in another era when people enjoyed the simpler things in life.

Now some officials of Atlantic County, New Jersey don’t want to spend a dime on restoring the lighthouse that they own. And, to make matters worse, after the County willfully neglected to maintain the bridge that connected the lighthouse to land, they demolished it, saying that it was a liability. However, a group of locals have formed a nonprofit to raise money in hopes of restoring the lighthouse. The estimated cost of restoration ranges between $250,000 and $300,000.

Commissioned in 1939 by the Leiling Family, who owned Lenape Park at that time, it took a man named Herman Dehn, Sr. four years to complete the elaborate 65-foot tall lighthouse on the man-made island that he had created to have it built upon. With the exception of some neighborhood children who lent a hand from time to time, Mr. Dehn built the lighthouse by himself using simple hand tools. Although it was not built to be a functioning real lighthouse, it soon became one of the world’s better known lighthouse facsimiles.

Almost immediately upon its completion in 1943, to the delight of the local residents, gospel music and hymns filled the community from atop the speakers of the lighthouse. The lighthouse became famous around the world as the “Singing Lighthouse,” and post cards claiming its musical fame became popular, finding their way to all parts of the globe.

Then, after 54 years, in 1961 the Leiling family, who owned Lenape Park, sold it to Ed and Winnie Young. However, by that time the community had grown, and it seems some people were not happy about the hymns, and complaints were filed about the music. Soon the new owners were told by the local government to turn the music off for good. In 1999 ownership of the park and the lighthouse again changed hands, and later it changed hands again when the County government purchased the park and the lighthouse.

However, there are some who say that the lighthouse does not need to be totally restored, and that repairs should be as limited as possible just to make sure that it is structurally sound. County Executive Dennis Levinson was quoted in the Shore News Today as saying that he would consider turning the lighthouse over to a nonprofit or leasing it to them. However, he also stated, “The lighthouse is neither historic nor functional, but it certainly is iconic.” However, probably just about every maritime and architectural historian in the nation will differ with him in stating that the lighthouse is not historic.

Hopefully the new nonprofit will be able to formulate a comprehensive agreement to protect the Lake Lenape Lighthouse well into the future. (Photo by Kimberly A. LaPergola.)

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2016 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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