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Centuries Of Tradition At The Shore, Nation’s Oldest Working Lighthouse Turns 250

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SANDY HOOK, N.J.(CBSNewYork) — There is cause to pause and think if you visit the Jersey Shore this summer. The nation’s oldest working lighthouse is there and it is marking its 250th birthday.

No one knows more about the Sandy Hook Lighthouse than historian Tom Hoffman. He has been giving tours at the house since 1975, and no one is more knowledgeable or proud of its past.

“It was built before there was a United States of America,” he told CBS 2’s Jim Axelrod.

The lighthouse was held by the British during the revolution, and has gone from lightkeepers using whale oil lamps to being fully automated and operated by the Coast Guard. It’s located on a peninsula 10 miles south of New York harbor and its mission to guide ships headed to the U.S. has never changed.

For immigrants coming to America, it was the lighthouse, not the Statue of Liberty that they first saw as they arrived.

“This is what they saw first. You’re out on the Atlantic Ocean and you’re approaching the harbor and there is this white tower,” Hoffman said, “It’s the Sandy Hook light house that they see first.”

During World War II, with German U-Boats lurking offshore the light was extinguished and the tower painted camouflage. Today, it is a protected National Landmark, and for some visitors it is a part of family history.

“I am the great-great-granddaughter of Charles W. Patterson and the great-great-niece of Sarah W. Patterson,” Sharon Patterson said.

Charles and Sarah Patterson were siblings who served as lighthouse keepers at Sandy Hook for 25 years starting in 1861. They worked together to make sure the light never went out.

The need for lighthouse keepers eventually faded out, and in an age of GPS technology, the need for lighthouses themselves may soon follow, but they will always have a place in our history.

The coastal erosion that is frequently reported at the shore has not threatened the lighthouse, in fact a natural sand barrier has grown over time.

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