Little Red Lighthouse
|Location||Fort Washington Park, Hudson River, New York, New York|
|Year first constructed||1889|
|Year first lit||1921 (current tower in this location)|
|Markings / pattern||red with white lantern|
|Focal height||40 feet (12 m)|
|Current lens||12 inches (300 mm)|
|Characteristic||Fl White, 3s|
Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse
|MPS||Hudson River Lighthouses TR|
|NRHP Reference #||
|Added to NRHP||May 29, 1979|
The Little Red Lighthouse, officially Jeffrey's Hook Light is a small lighthouse on the Hudson River in New York City. It was made famous by the 1942 children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Swift, illustrated by Lynd Ward. The lighthouse stands on Jeffrey’s Hook, a small point of land that supports the base of the eastern pier of the George Washington Bridge, which connects the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan to Fort Lee, New Jersey. The shoreline north and south of the lighthouse makes up Fort Washington Park.
A 10 candle-power light was first hung on a pole at the water's edge here in 1889 to warn the increasing Hudson River traffic away from Jeffrey's Hook at night. The current structure was built as the North Hook Beacon at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, where it stood until 1917. It was reconstructed here in 1921 as part of a project to improve Hudson River navigational aids, and was in operation until 1947. When the George Washington Bridge was completed in 1931, however, the lighthouse was considered obsolete, as the bridge pier was illuminated. The story of the 1942 children's book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, by Hildegarde Swift, centers around the fears of the lighthouse that it was now irrelevant, but the bridge reassures it that it is still needed to help keep river traffic safe.
The proposed dismantling of the lighthouse in 1951 resulted in a public outcry, largely from fans of Swift's book, leading to the preservation of the lighthouse by the City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation. The lighthouse is now a New York City Landmark and was relighted by the city in 2002. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse in 1979.
There are tours on an infrequent basis, especially on the Little Red Lighthouse Festival day in mid-September and Open House New York day in October. The Urban Park Rangers division of New York City's Parks and Recreation are responsible for arranging tours of the lighthouse. They can also be contacted for the scheduled times of access between May and October. Access to the lighthouse is either via a steep footpath leading down from the north side of the bridge or, somewhat more easily, via the riverside promenade leading south to Riverside Park and Riverbank State Park.
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge
Published in 1942, this children's book uses the story of the building of the George Washington Bridge next to the small lighthouse to affirm the idea that even the small are important. The book begins by introducing the lighthouse and its job of warning the boats on the busy Hudson River of the rocks nearby. Every night a man climbs up to the top of the lighthouse and turns on its flashing light. When there is fog, the man additionally turns on the lighthouse's fog bell. The lighthouse is pleased with and proud of its important job.
In the middle section of the book, the lighthouse watches, mystified, as men build a great gray bridge right next to it. When the bridge is finished, it towers above the lighthouse, which now feels small and unimportant. Even worse, one night a light begins to flash atop the bridge's tower, and the lighthouse is convinced that it is no longer needed.
That night, a storm whips up and fog clutches at the boats. But the man does not come to activate the lighthouse, confirming its fears that it will never shine again. But the boats cannot see the light high atop the bridge, and without the lighthouse's light or bell, the "fat black tug" crashes upon the rocks nearby. The bridge calls to the lighthouse, reassuring it that it is still needed, "each to his own place." The man finally arrives, complaining that some boys had stolen his keys. The lighthouse resumes its job, glad that it still has work to do. Though it now knows that it is small, it is still very proud.
The book ends by encouraging the reader to go to Riverside Drive in New York City and "see for yourself" the lighthouse next to the bridge. The "great gray bridge" is clearly the George Washington Bridge, though it is not named in the book. Construction on the bridge began in 1927, only six years after the lighthouse was erected at its current location, and concluded in 1931.
- Light List, Volume I, Atlantic Coast, St. Croix River, Maine to Shrewsbury River, New Jersey (PDF). Light List. United States Coast Guard. 2009. p. 312.
- "Historic Light Station Information and Photography: New York". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office.
- Rowlett, Russ (2009-12-28). "Lighthouses of the United States: Downstate New York". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- Swift, Hildegarde (1942). The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. Lynd Ward (illustrator). Harcourt, Brace, and World. The 2002 edition is ISBN=0-15-204571-6
- "Little Red Lighthouse", Washington Heights & Inwood Online, NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation, August 2001, accessed February 27, 2012
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