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The Hudson River Lights Series

Part 1 of 8

Jeffrey’s Hook/Little Red Lighthouse
Submitted By: Fred Fragano

Under the span of the great George Washington Bridge stands a little red lighthouse, appropriately nicknamed, the Little Red Lighthouse. This loved Hudson River lighthouse is actually named Jeffrey's Hook.

The lighthouse, which is located in Ft. Washington Park in New York City, was first commissioned in 1921. However, it has a history that is not well known to many. Little Red (although it was not even red at the time) actually began its lighthouse career in the Sandy Hook area of New Jersey in approximately 1817. The lighthouse, known as the Sandy Hook West Beacon, was approximately 40 feet high and housed a 6th Order lens. The light was in an area very prone to erosion and therefore was relocated a couple of times between 1842 and 1889. Due to the fact that the 1889 site was several hundred feet south of its original location, the light came to be known as the Sandy Hook South Beacon. The lighthouse stood at its final Sandy Hook location until the occasion to move it arose once again. This time it was not erosion, but rather, it interfered with a gun battery that was built in Ft. Hancock, New Jersey. The light was disassembled in 1917 and put into storage until it was finally placed in its present location in 1921. It served as an aid to navigation until it was decommissioned by the United States Coast Guard in 1947.

The reason for Little Red's demise as an active lighthouse was the construction of the George Washington Bridge. As many people know, a wonderful children's book by Hildegarde Swift, entitled The Little Red Lighthouse and the Big Gray Bridge beautifully tells the story. In fact, it has been said that the lighthouse is still in existence today because of Swift's book. The United States Coast Guard had plans to remove and scrap the lighthouse, as they felt it was no longer needed, due to the newly constructed George Washington Bridge. When the book was published, it was the children who made a big fuss about the Coast Guard's plans of scrapping the lighthouse and eventually the children won. Little Red was spared and still stands proudly to this very day for everyone to enjoy. In fact, it now seems that the lighthouse may be enjoyed even more soon, especially by boaters at night. It has been disclosed that the United States Coast Guard will soon, within the next few months, be re-lighting the lighthouse. The light source will be an electric light and request is being made to the Coast Guard to have the flashing sequence be restored to its original one flash every three seconds.

The Little Red Lighthouse is not the easiest lighthouse to reach by foot because of its location. As mentioned, the lighthouse is in Ft. Washington Park, located in Manhattan at 178th Street and the Hudson River. It may be reached by foot from 181st Street and Plaza Lafayette by taking the steps, footpath and footbridge over the highway and then down a winding path to the park. A much easier way to reach the lighthouse, and a much more fun way, is to contact the New York City Urban Park Rangers at 212-304-2365. Although the Rangers provide tours of the lighthouse, it is very well worthwhile to call and inquire about the Little Red Lighthouse Festival that is held periodically from the Spring to the Fall. This is a very special event with a day filled with activities featuring tours of the lighthouse, food, music and other events including a Celebrity reading of Hildegarde Swift's famous book. The Rangers have special buses meeting the crowds at 181st Street and Plaza Lafayette which take you directly to the Park.

So, give Little Red a try and you will see spectacular views, and still be only about 40 feet off the ground. Next time we will venture a further bit north up the Hudson River and visit my favorite Hudson River Lighthouse, Tarrytown Lighthouse.
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