Wednesday, February 3, 2010
A little red lighthouse
Thanks to a tip from blog-reader Edy, this armchair traveler is on the road again to the Big Apple, to stitch a lighthouse nestled under the George Washington Bridge in New York City.
Unlike most other lighthouses, what is today known as Jeffrey's Hook began life in another state. Built in 1880 in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, it had become obsolete by 1917 and was dismantled.
Since the days when Native Americans plied the Hudson River, the section called Jeffrey's Hook had always been well-traveled. Increased traffic between upstate cities like Albany to New York City and the Atlantic Ocean saw a rise in shipwrecks in this area, prompting the placement of a red pole jutting out over the river to warn of danger. In 1889, two lanterns were added to the pole to aid navigation. In 1896, the City of New York acquired much of the land surrounding this warning marker and the area became known as Fort Washington Park.
The dismantled New Jersey lighthouse made its big move across the Hudson to Jeffrey's Hook in 1921 and for ten years was an important navigational aid. When the George Washington Bridge was erected in 1931, however, its brighter lights again made poor Jeffrey's Hook lighthouse obsolete and it was decommissioned by the Coast Guard. Fated for the auction block, the lighthouse was saved in large part by the publication in 1942 of a book entitled The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge authored by Hildegarde Swift. It was a saga of a happy little lighthouse, overshadowed by the gigantic bridge constructed over it, which comes to realize even an old lighthouse has an important role to play. Children and grown-ups alike fell in love with the book, writing letters and raising money to save the lighthouse from obscurity.
In 1961, the City of New York received the lighthouse as a gift from the Coast Guard and the station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. It was mostly ignored until 1986, when on the occasion of its 65th anniversary, it was feted to a huge party in celebration of a $200,000 renovation. Each year in September, a festival is held at the lighthouse, capped by a reading of Swift's book by various celebrities.