By Jim Crowley
Author of "Lighthouses of New York"
When Henry Hudson sailed up the North River in search of the Northwest Passage little did he know that someday the river bearing his name would eventually connect the east coast to America's heartland via the Erie Canal. In the years that followed his discovery, river towns used the river to transport their goods to New York City and upstate New York. To help guide these ships, they established a series of post lights to mark dangerous spots along the river, but this unorganized system proved unreliable.
When the Erie Canal opened in 1825 and commercial river traffic increased, the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment felt the need for a more sophisticated system of lights. In 1826, the Stony Point Lighthouse was the first to shine its light on the Hudson, starting a system of lights that eventually grew to 14 lighthouses and numerous post lamps to guide mariners safely the length of the river.
The seven lighthouses that exist today along the Hudson River are a tribute to the preservation groups that have worked long and dedicated hours in restoring, preserving and keeping these maritime treasures alive. The Hudson River Lighthouse Coalition is dedicated to enhancing these efforts and guaranteeing that the Hudson lighthouses will shine forever.
The Little Red Lighthouse (Jeffreys Hook) - This little lighthouse is the southernmost light on the Hudson River and was immortalized in the children's book "The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge." It first shined its light on the river in 1921, but was deactivated in 1947 by the U.S. Coast Guard because the well-lit George Washington Bridge rendered it unnecessary. The Historic House Trust has plans to relight the Little Red in the near future and considering the tragedy that befell New York City and the nation on Sept. 11, 2001, it would also shine as a symbol of hope for our country. Each September, the Little Red Lighthouse Festival draws thousands of visitors and during the season regular tours of the lighthouse are conducted by the Urban Park Rangers.
For more information: Urban Park Rangers - 212-360-2774 (inside NYC) or 866-NYC-HAWK (outside NYC) or City of New York-Parks and Recreation
1883 Lighthouse at Sleepy Hollow - Another lighthouse that became obsolete due the building of a bridge (Tappan Zee Bridge) has survived as a museum because of the efforts of the Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation. Although deactivated in 1961 this "spark plug "lighthouse shines today in a different way, offering visitors a chance to relive "life at a lighthouse" through its nicely maintained museum; complete with keeper's logs, old photos and a beautifully restored interior. The lighthouse can be viewed from Kingsland Point Park, which offers visitors picnic tables and a relaxing view of the river.
Tours of the lighthouse are by appointment only through the Village of Sleepy Hollow, (914) 631-1440.
Stony Point Lighthouse - This is the oldest lighthouse on the Hudson River, built in 1826. The lighthouse is part of the Stony Point Battlefield Historic State Site and was completely restored in 1995. The view from the lantern room offers visitors a majestic view of the Hudson Highlands and Haverstraw Bay reminiscent of the old Hudson River School artists. The light can visited daily during the season and their regularly scheduled evening candle light tours offer visitors a chance to see the beautifully restored fourth order lens guide mariners safely up the river.
For more information: 845-786-2521 or http://www2.lhric.org/spbat tle/spbattle.htm
Esopus Lighthouse - Affectionately known as the "Maid of the Meadow," this light is the last of the wooden lighthouses on the Hudson. A few years ago she was in danger of falling over into the river, but due to the dedicated efforts of the Esopus Lighthouse Commission, she has been saved. She has been leveled and stabilized, new windows installed, roof fixed and hopefully in the near future, the Esopus Commission will receive ownership of the lighthouse. You can view this lighthouse up close by cruising on the M/V Rip Van Winkle docked in Kingston or volunteer for one of the work crews involved in the restoring the light starting in the spring. And for all those who know this beautiful light - the black cat is still in the window.
For more information, call 845-331-1478 or http://www.esopuslighthouse.org
Rondout Lighthouse (Kingston) - The Rondout Lighthouse, built in 1915 near the north entrance of Rondout Creek, is administered by the Hudson River Maritime Museum and is the centerpiece of the museum's program. Regular tours are conducted during the season and their popular "Haunted Lighthouse and Stories on the Hudson" program is attended by visitors from all over the country. This active aid to navigation not only guides mariners on the river but also offers visitors a look back in time when the river was bustling with old passenger steamers, tugs and barges transporting goods up and down the Hudson. The museum offers exhibits and educational programs on the history of the Hudson River and is a mainstay in preserving the river's history. The museum and the City of Kingston are also hoping to obtain title to the lighthouse in the near future.
For more information: 845-338-0071 or http://www.ulster.net/~hrmm/rondout/light.htm
Saugerties Lighthouse - The Saugerties Lighthouse Conservancy, formed in 1985, is the group responsible for saving and restoring this historic light to active duty. The lighthouse was deactivated in 1954, but relit in 1990. It's the only lighthouse bed and breakfast on the Hudson where a visitor can experience first hand what it was like to be a light keeper by spending the night in this beautifully restored light. The "in-residence light keeper" makes an overnight stay comfortable and memorable for any lighthouse fan. The lighthouse contains comfortable bedrooms, a kitchen, and a small parlor where one can spend a quiet relaxing evening. An outside deck offers visitors a chance to view ships sailing up and down the river and the vantage point from the lantern room offers visitors a beautiful 360-degree scenic view of the river and the surrounding Catskill Mountains. The lighthouse can be accessed by taking a pleasant walk along the 1/2-mile nature trail leading to the light or by sailing your boat to the floating dock next to the light. During the season, the lighthouse celebrates life on the river with festive public events. To visit or stay at the lighthouse, please call in advance.
For more information: 845-247-0656 or www.saugertieslighthouse.com
Hudson-Athens Lighthouse (Hudson) - This beautiful brick lighthouse has been guiding ships safely around the "middle ground flats" since 1874. The Hudson-Athens Preservation Lighthouse Society (HALPS) is the owner of this completely restored active aid to navigation and their restoration efforts have made this light a true maritime treasure on the Hudson. The restored lighthouse has a warm lived-in feeling that brings any visitor back to the days when the keeper and his family lived at the light. When at the light, a visitor can view historical photos and memorabilia depicting life on the river and at the lighthouse. Many of the artifacts were donated by the Brunner family, whose father Emil Brunner was the last civilian keeper at the light. The working fog bell mechanism is one of the last remaining in the United States and a treat to hear, especially on a foggy day. One of the goals of HALPS is to open the lighthouse on the weekends, so boaters can visit and enjoy the rich history of the lighthouse. Until then scheduled tours during the season are the only way to visit it up close.
For more information: 518-828-5294 or http://www.hudsonathenslighthouse.org
For more information on the lighthouses of the Hudson River, see www.HudsonLights.com