Man agrees to complete $50,000 Hereford Inlet Lighthouse paint job for free
By JOHN V. SANTORE, Staff Writer
“I’m having a blast here,” said Ed Pearce as the hydraulic lift extended upward, raising him above the rooftop of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse. The sun shone, a breeze rolled in, and classical music played from his phone. From his perch, he looked out at the North Wildwood beach, at a nearby lagoon, and at the waves that broke beyond both, away to the horizon. “This is not work.”
The wooden building below him stood solid and ornate, though its paint had been peeled and chipped by storms, turned by the sun from its normal light yellow to a pale pink.
Pearce, who founded the South Jersey company Painting by Pearce in 1978, said he had passed Hereford many times without stopping in. He finally did two years ago, where he met Steve Murray, who chairs The Friends of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse Inc., the nonprofit that takes care of the building.
This year, Murray was trying to figure out where to get the $50,000 to $75,000 he needed to repaint Hereford, which was constructed in 1874.
In the face of statewide budget shortfalls, funds from the New Jersey Historic Trust and the Department of Transportation had dried up, he said.
And so Pearce offered to help — by doing the job for free, in three stages, over the next year. The Lighthouse will only have to pay for paint and materials, some of which are also being donated by Soltz Paint & Decorating Centers.
“I really believe that it’s a privilege for me to be able to work on something like this,” Pearce said.
He talked about the quality of Hereford’s wood, cut from previously untouched trees that grew in the wild woods that gave the future town its name.
“Just working with the craftsmanship and the material, the building itself architecturally — it’s a gem,” Pearce said.
And he noted the long history of people who had dedicated time to preserving the Lighthouse, saying simply, “To be part of that team, it’s an honor.”
“To me, it’s like a sacred duty,” Murray said, explaining his dedication to Hereford, as well as to the grounds and gardens surrounding it which he has cultivated for years.
Murray said he knows people who have spent time in those spaces alone with their thoughts and together with their families, in the midst of divorces and on the brink of marriage proposals.
“It’s hard to put into words, but it’s just a very special place,” he said, adding that the annual total has reached about 40,000 visitors. “I’d like as many people to come here as possible.”
Hereford was built when sailing ships lined the coastline, Murray said, carrying cargo and people from Nova Scotia to Cuba, and ferrying immigrants from the old world to the new.
Because of the shifting sand bars beneath the water, wrecks were common. Murray, who spent three years researching the history of Hereford for a book he wrote, tallied a minimum of 60 wrecks in the Hereford Inlet between 1766 and 1919.
In response to the danger, the nation’s young government funded the construction of lighthouses on the Atlantic coastline starting in the late 18th century. It also formed the United States Life-Saving Service in the middle of the 19th, which was merged into the newly created Coast Guard several decades later.
“What these guys did was unbelievable,” Murray said. The first floor of Hereford used to serve as the residence of the lighthouse keeper, but now it’s a museum. Murray pointed to a 1925 illustration of a Life-Saving Service member, holding a torch aloft on the beach as he prepared to face crashing ocean waves.
“Seven guys in a boat, going out in the middle of the winter, through the surf, through ice,” Murray said. “The motto was, you have to go out, (but) you don’t have to come back. Incredible for the little bit of money they made.”
Murray said that between the 1960s and 1980s, Hereford fell into disrepair. Since then, volunteers have worked to restore it. Pearce’s donated repainting work is the latest development, though Murray says his efforts never stop.
He hopes to one day take possession a nearby historical building, currently occupied by the New Jersey State Police, so that he can create the Historic Anglesea Maritime Village.
But for now, he is preoccupied with every detail of Hereford, just like the lighthouse keepers who lived here for so many years.
Hereford still shines at night, but it no longer uses the French-made Fresnel lens on display upstairs, its concentric rings of thick glass forming an Art Deco design that turned the glow of a small oil lamp into a beacon visible from 13 miles away.
Murray looked out at the ocean through a nearby window. He had mentioned “the thousands of lives that were saved from the light being there,” and he brought up the fact that the first church services in the area were held in the building, too.
He thought again about why he cared so much for Hereford. “You have that guiding light,” he said, “that’s out there all the time.”
Murray said that the creation of the Life-Saving Service was spurred on by two wrecks that together took the lives of 300 European immigrants.
On Sunday, reports from Europe stated that as many as 700 migrants may have drowned last week following a single wreck in the Mediterranean Sea. The men, women, and children on board had been seeking passage from North Africa to the Italian coast.
Where Hereford’s gardens end and the beach begins, a small stone monument has been placed in the earth, carved with a single sentence:
“In memory of all those lost at sea.”
Article is from the Hereford Lighthouse archives, written by JOHN V. SANTORE, Staff Writer