The Enchanting Story of the Little Red Lighthouse

The Enchanting Story of the Little Red Lighthouse

Jennifer Hunter
Aug 29, 2014
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you happen to look down at just the right moment while speeding across the George Washington Bridge, you may spy a flash of red, a plucky little structure that pre-dates even the bridge itself. You, my friend, have spotted the Little Red Lighthouse. So just what is this super-cute, colorful lighthouse all about? We investigate.

The 40-foot tower was actually built all the way back in 1880 to protect the shore in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, but as boat traffic (and accidents) increased on the Hudson River, it was moved to Manhattan in 1921. For 10 years, it shone, protecting ships traveling the waterway between New York and New Jersey from the dangerous, rocky protrusion called Jeffery's Hook. But in 1931, the behemoth bridge was built, dwarfing this hard-working house's beam with its wealth of 600 navigational lights.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Although it was now considered obsolete, the charming little house still inspired Hildegarde Swift to write the 1942 hit children's book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, forever endearing the lighthouse to a generation of children. Which, it turns out, was a lucky break when a few years later in 1951, the unused lighthouse was scheduled to be dismantled and sold for scrap.

What ensued was an outpouring of support for the preservation of the house, a campaign to save it mounted by the children who had loved the book. And it worked. Later that year, the deed of the lighthouse was officially transferred to New York's Park and Recreation Department. In 1979, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2000, it got one final facelift with a fresh coat of red and a working lens.

Visitors to Fort Washington park today can see this lighthouse as it once was: still little, still red but now with a charming and fascinating story of resilience, grit and pluck.

Information via NYC Parks, Historic House Trust and Untapped Cities.

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