Skip to comments.Visiting the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge
Posted on 09/28/2009 9:21:28 PM PDT by Coleus
Once upon a time, when you were just a kid, Mom or Dad probably read you "The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. And years later maybe you read this 1942 classic by Hildegarde H. Swift to your own children.
The story begins with the introduction of a little lighthouse sitting on the rocky Manhattan shore of the Hudson River. It was round and fat and red. It was fat and red and jolly. And it was very, very proud. The book tells how the Little Red Lighthouse guided shipping on the Hudson for years, until the opening of the George Washington Bridge with its huge, powerful lights made the little guy feel unwanted and obsolete. My light is so small, the Little Red Lighthouse says, and then worries, Perhaps they will tear me down. In real life, they almost did, but more on that later. The lighthouses small size, plus its location almost directly beneath the GWBs lower roadway and not far from the bridges massive New York tower, make it all but invisible from New Jersey unless you know exactly where to look. You cant see it as you drive across the bridge itself.
But its there all 40 feet of it standing in the shadow of the tower, which reaches 604 feet into the sky. Why, that bridge is big enough to make any self-respecting lighthouse feel inadequate. For 10 years before the GWB opened in 1931, Red was the warning light for Hudson River ship captains venturing too near a particularly treacherous spot on the Manhattan side called Jeffreys Hook. The lighthouse was operated by the Coast Guard until 1947, when it was declared obsolescent. Four years later the Coast Guard was about to auction it off, but there was an outcry from people in Washington Heights objecting to losing their own nearby lighthouse. Schoolchildren from around the country sent nickels and dimes to save it. Eventually, the feds handed the beacon over to New York City.
The city didnt do much over the next 30 years to maintain Red, and it fell into disrepair. The base cracked. Soon, this quaint little oddity from an earlier time became a ramshackle mess and covered with graffiti. Now comes the best part of the story. It turns out that the Little Red Lighthouse, always a favorite of children, was saved by a child. Once upon another time, a man named Harrison J. Goldin and his 10-year-old son Matthew were driving along Riverside Drive and caught a glimpse of the lighthouse. Matthew is said to have recognized it because he read The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge in school. Wouldnt it be great if Red could be rescued?
At that time, in the 70s and 80s, Matthews dad had something to say in such matters. He was comptroller of New York, the citys second-highest elected official. Soon, Goldin and the city parks department came up with $1.4 million for the lighthouses rehabilitation. The doors are still locked, but Red is freshly painted and kept up-to-date. On any warm weekend, families gather in Fort Washington Park for picnicking, Frisbee tossing, ball playing, getting their feet wet in the Hudson and taking one anothers picture in front of the Little Red Lighthouse. Swifts book champions lighthouses and people that persevere. Maybe thats why kids love it. When a thick fog enshrouds the river, Little Red figures that those big lights on the bridge now show the way for ships, and that his own career is finished.
But the bridge says, I call to the airplanes. But you are still master of the river. And the lighthouse and the bridge live happily ever after. And so, goodnight.
IF YOU GO
What: The Little Red Lighthouse.
Where: Washington Heights, Manhattan.
How much: Free.
More info: 212-304-2365; www.nycgovparks.org
Did you know? The Little Red Lighthouse is 129 years old. Before it appeared on the Hudson River, it was a Coast Guard lighthouse at Sandy Hook.
Going to the lighthouse: Off the George Washington Bridge, take a left onto Fort Washington Avenue. Then make a left onto West 181st Street. Walk west on 181st. Look for the pedestrian footbridge over the Henry Hudson Parkway. Cross over and walk south toward the bridge. When you get to the bridge tower, follow the path to the lighthouse.
In a world with all this consuming bad news, I’ll give the Little Red Lighthouse story a big bump.
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