Lighthouse festival to celebrate life at sea

It may not be the tallest, but Hereford Inlet Lighthouse in North Wildwood may be New Jersey’s most quaint lighthouse.

Looking more like a residence than a lighthouse, the unique Swiss Carpenter Gothic-style structure, built in 1874 to mark the mouth of the Hereford Inlet, provides an ideal backdrop for a festival this weekend to celebrate the state’s rich maritime history.

Historians and authors are expected to join artists and crafters for the 2013 Hereford Inlet Lighthouse Maritime Festival on the lighthouse grounds and along Central Avenue in North Wildwood. The festival will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. It also will feature food and music and is billed as a “celebration of life by the sea.”

There will be activities for children, with costumed pirates roaming the grounds, and guided tours of the 19th century lighthouse. Admission to the festival is free, but there is a $4 charge to tour the lighthouse.

The fourth-order lighthouse, designed by Paul J. Pelz — who would later garner fame as the designer of the Library of Congress — is the only one like it on the East Coast. Pelz designed five “sister” lighthouses to Hereford on the West Coast, which were identical to the North Wildwood light. Only two of the five still exist in California.

The barrier island where North Wildwood is was virtually uninhabited when the lighthouse was constructed. It’s situated where the Atlantic meets the Hereford Inlet, leading from the ocean to the famed Intra-Coastal Waterway, which links Maine to Florida. Strong currents and shifting sandbars near the entrance of the inlet caused the frequent groundings of boats and shipwrecks until the 49½-foot fixed beacon was constructed. The light, visible at a distance of 13 nautical miles, is still used today as an aid to navigation.

The Hereford’s real showstopper is its magnificent gardens. Planted by lighthouse lover Steve Murray in 1986, the tranquil Victorian-style park and gardens features an exquisite display of more than 200 plant varieties along winding paths that take visitors through room-like gardens that eventually lead to a seawall and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

The gardens have won numerous awards and have been featured and number of publications for their beauty, including Coastal Living and Victorian Homes. The gardens are a favorite haunt of birders and butterfly watchers and are listed as a “wildlife habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation.

More information about the lighthouse, including hours of operation, and on the 2013 Hereford Inlet Lighthouse Maritime Festival, may be obtained by calling 609-522-4520 or at