My New York never seen before.
Its thousand stories to “listen to”, its places – surprising and charming – outside the (ultra) famous tourist routes by now and the tales turning them into very beautiful “goodnight” fairytales.
Like that one tied to the small (and last) red lighthouse of Manhattan, the Jeffrey’s Hook Light, which inspired the famous novel for children by Hildegarde Swift – The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.
In 1880, in New Jersey, on the Sandy Hook Peninsula located at the entrance of the New York Bay, a small cast iron lighthouse – Sandy Hook Beacon – was built to lead the ships coming to the New York Harbor. However in 1917 this odd (because defined “short and fat”) night light, obsolete by now, was destroyed and put in depot.
Four years later it was reassembled and put along a trait of the Hudson River, in Washington Heights area, in Manhattan, where the route of the boats and trade transports towards the Hudson Valley crossed an extremely dangerous point of the coastline – the little Jeffrey’s Hook promontory.
The little red lighthouse – the only lighthouse on the island of Manhattan, a record which still stands today – was renamed Jeffrey’s Hook Light, the Jeffrey’s Hook light.
Its glorious days, however, lasted only a decade.
In 1931 the blazing lights of the steel giant just built – the George Washington Bridge – darkened nearly all the lighthouse, making it obsolete once again.
In 1947 the Coast Guard announced its destruction causing the protests of families and children above all. In the meantime the Jeffrey’s Hook Light had become really loved thanks to Hildegarde Swift’s novel – “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge” – inspired right to the little red light and its odd position under the “great gray bridge” and enriched by the wonderful illustrations by the great Lynd Ward, one of the Graphic Novel American founders.
On July 23rd 1951 the Coast Guard gave up to the protest become of unimaginable proportions by now – it was even called a commission of psychiatrists who stated that the lighthouse was a “safety symbol for children” – and gave the entire property to the Department of Parks of New York.
In 1979 the Jeffrey’s Hook Light was listed also in the National Register of Historic Parks. In 2000 it was completed restored, covered with a new red paint layer, faithful to its historic color of the Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, re-activated and opened to the public for guided tours.
Today, the Little Red Light is a sort of untouchable historic icon for the New Yorkers.
A wonderful fragment of our very beautiful – and more and more surprising – New York never seen before .
Hildegarde Swift’s novel for children – The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, published in New York in 1942 – tells the story of a little red lighthouse located on the Hudson River, New York.
Its daily “work” is to warn the ships and the fishermen’s boats about the big rocks peeping out from the river by its dazzling light. The lighthouse is lively and responsible, proud to have a such important job to do.
“Once upon a time a little lighthouse was built on a sharp point of the shore by the Hudson River.
It was round and fat and red. It was fat and red and jolly. And it was very, very proud”
(Incipit – The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge)
One day some strange men come and start to build a giant bridge, a colossus with a flashing light on the top which darkens totally the little lighthouse which, sad and depressed, convinces itself to not be useful anymore.
Then suddenly a tempest comes, a ship at the mercy of waves fights to not bump against the rocks and so sink, the great gray bridge tells to the lighthouse to switch on its light – rapidly – and to help the ship.
“Your light is so bright that I thought mine was needed no more” – the lighthouse answers.
“But you are still master of the river. Quick, let your light shine again. Each to his own place, little brother!”
The novel – today still among the most read and loved ones in the USA in the category literature for children, thanks to the very beautiful illustrations by Lynd Ward, too – ends with the rescue of the ship. The lighthouse was proud and happy again, aware to be as important and essential as the great gray bridge.
Jeffrey’s Hook Light is located in Fort Washington Park, on the Jeffrey’s Hook promontory at the foot of the George Washington Bridge.
Coming from Midtown, take the A subway (blue line) and get off at 181 Street stop, then go along towards Hudson River along the 181St and take the Hudson River Greenway: it will take you as far as the crossroads to reach the lighthouse, right under the George Washington Bridge pylon.
Reckon a calm 20 minutes walk to reach the site.
Find down here the map with the path from the 181St subway stop.
To take part into the free tour – organized by the Urban Park Rangers Tour – of the Jeffrey’s Hook Light, call the following number: (212) 304-2365
You can also check the tour availability during the period of your visit looking up the official website of the no profit association which deals with the preservation of the Little Red Lighthouse – The Historic House Trust.
[A special thank to Laura Colli Ghisalberti (Unusual USA) to have provided for some of the photos in this article]