Clio Logo
Officially called the Jeffrey's Hook Light but popularly known as the Little Red Lighthouse, this small lighthouse is located in Fort Washington Park, on the Hudson River. Its height is forty feet, and it has a diameter of 14.5. The lighthouse was constructed in 1880 although it was not lit until 1921. It is located on Jeffrey's Hook, a small land mass that serves as the base of the eastern pier of the George Washington's bridge, which connects the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan to Fort Lee, New Jersey. When the George Washington Bridge was completed in 1931, the lighthouse was considered to be of no use anymore because the bridge's lights. The Coast Guard decommissioned it and put out its light in 1948 hoping to be able to auction it later. Public opinion did not agree with the decisions and protests ensued. This resulted in the Coast Guard giving the lighthouse to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation on July 23, 1951. The lighthouse became listed on the National Register of Historic Places as "Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse" in 1979, and was designated a New York City Landmark in 1991. In 2002, it was relighted by the city of New York. It became renown with children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Swift, illustrated by Lynd Ward (1942).

The Lighthouse as of October 25th 2015 Photo by Julie Marinet

The Lighthouse as of October 25th 2015
Photo by Julie Marinet
Maritime accidents were an ongoing problem on the Hudson River throughout the nineteenth century, and authorities attempted to deal with this issue in a number of ways.  For many years, a red pole hung over the river near Jeffrey's Hook to alert seamen to the shoreline. In 1889, a ten candle power light was installed on the pole in order to create a more visible warning system. The City of New York purchased the small land area surrounding Jeffrey's Hook, which later became known as Fort Washington Park.

 Hildegarde Swift's 1942 book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge uses the story of the building of the George Washington Bridge next to the small lighthouse to argue that small things also matter. Hidegarde Swift was born in 1890 and died in 1977. She was a well known childen's books author best known for her story Little Blacknose: The story of a Pioneer that recieved the Newbery Honor medal. One of her other successes is called The Railroad to Freedom published in 1932.The illustrator of the book about the lighthouse, Lynd Ward, was born in 1905 and died in 1985. He was known for his wordless novels using wood engravings and his illustrations of children and adult books. His work has greatly influenced the development of the graphic novel genre. 

 The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge begins by introducing the lighthouse and its job of warning the boats on the busy Hudson River to the nearby dangerous rocks. 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 personalized as a character, pleased and proud of its job.

In the middle of the book, the little lighthouse has to witness the construction of the George Washington Bridge. The lighthouse becomes very sad because it thinks that, due to the light on the bridge, it is not going to be useful anymore. On the night following the opening of the bridge, no ones comes to light the lighthouse even though the weather is stormy. The lighthouse believes that it was right, and that no one would ever appear to light it anymore. Boats on the Hudson River, however, cannot see the bridge lighting very well in the fog, so they call on the lighthouse keeper for help, asking him to activate the fog bell. The man responsible for the lighthouse finally arrives, complaining that some boys had stolen his keys. The lighthouse starts working again, very happy to still be used.

When the George Washington Bridge was opened in 1931, the lighthouse appeared obsolete since the bridge's own powerful navigational lights dwarfed the less visible warnings provided by the little lighthouse. The Coast Guard therefore decided to decommission the red lighthouse and stopped its light in 1948. The light was designate for auction. The proposed dismantling of the lighthouse, however, resulted in a huge public outcry, largely spearheaded by children who were fans of the 1942 book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, by Hildegarde Swift. As a result of these protests, the Coast Guard deeded the lighthouse to the New York City department of parks and recreation on 23 July 1951.

The lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 under the name "Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse". It became an official New York City Landmark in 1991, and municipal officials decided to relight it in 2002.

The Little Red Lighthouse is part of the Historic House Trust. Every year, a festival is organized to celebrate Manhattan’s only remaining lighthouse with NYC Urban Park Ranger-led tours.

To access the Lighthouse, visitors may take an amazing and scenic walk along the Hudson River.  It starts from stairs that exist at 148th street and Riverside Drive and continues for approximately 1.5 miles to the bridge and the lighthouse,  Alternately, a shorter if less interesting route involves following the pedestrian path over the Henry Hudson Parkway at West 182nd Street and Riverside Drive. 
Historic Plaque on the Lighthouse Swift, Hildegarde, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, (Ed. Harcourt, Brace, and World 2002), illustrations by Lynn Ward