Manhattan’s only remaining lighthouse acquired its affectionate nickname from Hildegarde H. Swift’s 1942 children’s classic, “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.”
Illustrated by Lynd Ward, this tale of the friendship between the tiny beacon and the George Washington Bridge introduced children around the world to the red, round, and very, very proud little lighthouse in New York City.
Built in 1880, the 40-foot tower was moved in 1921 to Jeffrey’s Hook, a rocky point on the Hudson River near Manhattan’s northern edge. The lighthouse warned ships away from the shore as they made their way down the narrow channel between New York and New Jersey.
However, when construction of the George Washington Bridge was completed in 1931, the brilliant lights of the bridge’s 600-foot towers overwhelmed the little lighthouse. In 1947, it was officially decommissioned and abandoned, and by 1951, the Little Red Lighthouse was slated for demolition, with its cast-iron shell to be sold for scrap.
Hearing this news, thousands of children who loved Swift’s book started a nationwide campaign to save the Little Red Lighthouse. Thanks in part to their efforts, ownership of the lighthouse was transferred from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
Today, visitors climb a long, iron stair to the top of the tower, where the lantern room is again fitted with a working lens that blinks proudly at cargo barges and passenger ships sailing under the George Washington Bridge.
The Little Red Lighthouse is owned by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and is a member of the Historic House Trust.