Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Little Red Lighthouse

A stunning autumn day in Manhattan like today calls for a bike ride up the Westside Highway, following the Hudson River.
As I came to the George Washington Bridge that connects the north of Manhattan with New Jersey, I noticed a little red lighthouse sitting snugly under the bridge's vast span. It has a lovely history that I wanted to share with you.

In 1880, the lighthouse was erected on the New Jersey side at Sandy Hook, to guide ships into the New York harbor. But by 1917 it had become obsolete, so was dismantled and put into storage.
Meanwhile, on the Manhattan side, Jeffrey's Hook was always a hazardous point on the Hudson for boats at night. So in 1921, the Little Red Lighthouse was reassembled and renamed Jeffrey's Hook Light. Standing at only 40 feet tall, it is the southernmost lighthouse on the Hudson River and the only lighthouse on Manhattan. Nobody ever lived in it but a part-time attendant ran the light.
Only 10 years after Jeffrey's Hook Light was assembled here, the George Washington Bridge was built overhead. It's bright lights made the Little Red Lighthouse obsolete for the second time and in 1947, its light was extinguished forever.
In 1951, the Coast Guard proposed to dismantle the Lighthouse, but the public responded with an outpouring of letters to various officials. This was due mainly to a beloved 1942 children's book called The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge:

In the book, the Little Red Lighthouse feels dwarfed by the Great Gray Bridge. He feels unneeded and unwanted until one particularly foggy night when the bridge calls out to him, "Little brother, where is your light?" The Lighthouse wonders, "Am I brother of yours bridge? Your light was so bright that I thought mine was needed no more." The bridge replied, "I flash to the ships of the air. But you are still master of the river. Quick, let your light shine. Each to his own place little brother!"

The campaign to save the lighthouse was successful and on July 23rd 1951, it came under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a New York City Landmark.

Book image: media macaroni

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