Little Red Lighthouse

Little Red Lighthouse

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Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse, unofficially known as the Little Red Lighthouse, is located in Fort Washington Park right under the George Washington Bridge in Washington Heights. The small piece of land that it stands on is known as Jeffrey's Hook, named after the man that owned the land before it was acquired by the city in 1896.

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The lighthouse was originally built for Sandy Hook, NJ, and it stood there as the North Hook Beacon until becoming obsolete in 1917 (it was replaced by a much larger light). It was moved in pieces and reconstructed at its current spot in northern Manhattan, to help reduce accidents at one of the narrowest sections of the Hudson River. But the construction of the George Washington Bridge (and its 24-hour, bright lights) once again made the lighthouse obsolete, and it was decommissioned in 1948.

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There were plans to auction off (and melt down) the lighthouse, but it was saved by a public campaign led mostly by school children, who were familiar with the lighthouse thanks to Hildegarde Swift's 1942 children's book,The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. Control of the lighthouse passed from the Coast Guard to the City Department of Parks and Recreation in 1951 and it became a New York City landmark in 1991.

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This past weekend was Open House NY weekend, that magical two days where places in all five boroughs open their doors, providing tours and exclusive access to spots not normally (or sporadically) open to the public. There wasn't much on the list this year that I absolutely had to check out (past favorites have been the TWA Flight Center, Marine Air Terminal, Treasures in the Trash Collection, Brooklyn Army Terminal and The Four Seasons) but I was excited about getting inside of the lighthouse. I'd been to Fort Washington Park a few times, and spied on it from above while walking across the George Washington Bridge, but I'd never been inside.

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The lighthouse is small—constructed of 48 pieces of cast iron—and doesn't have space for a live-in keeper. It was relighted by the city in 2002, and the red light now turns on and off every day by a timer. There's not much room inside for anything but a spiral staircase to the top, but it's always thrilling to get behind-the-scenes access.

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