This is a story about how a children’s book saved a landmark in New York City. So let’s go down to Manhattan and learn all about Jeffrey’s Hook Light, or better known as the Little Red Lighthouse. The only remaining lighthouse in Manhattan.
Now for those who do not live, or are familiar with the geography of New York City, Manhattan is an island with the Hudson River making up its western shore. The lighthouse is located in Fort Washington Park, which hugs the coast just below the Washington Heights neighborhood. It sits under the George Washington Bridge, the busiest motor vehicle bridge in the world. Above the bridge noise from the cars drown out all thought as cars go from one state to another. However, down below at the edge of the river, the cars seem distant, even if the sound carries, almost to the point of being lost in the breeze off the Hudson River. It sits on a small piece of land that sticks out in the river known as Jeffrey’s Hook, which gives the lighthouse its official name.
As early as 1889, a light on a pole was placed on the land as a way to warn ships of the dangers at night. However, a lighthouse was not put on the spot until 1921 when the red lighthouse was moved from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Jeffrey’s Hook. Yup, our lighthouse came from somewhere else. It was erected in 1880. Made of cast iron, and it is 40 feet tall with a 12-inch lens inside.
It stood guard in New Jersey until 1917 when it was not needed anymore. Sadly its time in the limelight was not for long.
In 1927, construction on the George Washington Bridge started and upon its finish in 1931, the lighthouse was not needed anymore as a way to guide ships. The light was finally put out in 1948 with the idea of selling off the lighthouse to someone who might need it or for scrap. But this is where the children come into our story.
In 1942 a children’s book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge was published by Hildegarde Swift. The book sold more than 400,000 copies and was hugely popular in the New York City area. The story is about how the lighthouse is built and does an important job but is slowly replaced by the giant bridge, but after a storm catches boats off guard and unable to be guided to safety, the light from the lighthouse saves the day. The book reminds us that even the smallest are important.
The outcry from the public to save the lighthouse was loud and on July 23, 1951, the lighthouse was given to the city. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and in 2012 was relit by the city.
Visiting the lighthouse can be easy or it can be hard. The day I visited, I unknowingly picked the hard way. You can get to the lighthouse along the Hudson River Greenway, a 32-mile greenway that wraps around the isle of Manhattan. The path leading north of the lighthouse is mostly flat with a few ways to cross over the Henry Hudson Parkway, which runs along the west side of Manhattan. The north path is very steep, and I can’t even begin to tell you how you better take your time because it is a good workout. But this route is also the most rewarding with some great views of the Washington Bridge but of New Jersey as well.
View from Washington Heights towards the GW Bridge
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