The Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge is generally not mentioned in New York travel books. Tourists don’t flock to see Manhattan’s only remaining lighthouse. I’ve lived in the City for 20 years and hadn’t even heard of it. Finally, I stumbled on it this summer while biking on the lane along the Hudson River. Before I had even reached the path leading to the Lighthouse, I felt the thrill and pride of an explorer. You’d think I’d just discovered new land. But there are so few surprises left in our digitized, instantaneously twitted, flat world that the smallest treasure hiding behind the corner is enough to get me excited. Little did I know that children around the world knew about the Little Red Lighthouse in New York.
The red lighthouse was built in 1880 and moved to its current location on the Hudson in 1921 where it served to warn ships away from the shore. Ten years later, the George Washington Bridge was completed spanning the river right over the red Lighthouse, dwarfing it. Hildegarde H Swift wrote a children’s book about the friendship that ensued between the red lighthouse and the gray bridge called, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. I need to start looking at the children’s section in the bookstore instead of the travel guides.
But by 1951, the lighthouse was abandoned and slated for demolition. Thousands of children who loved Swift’s book started a nationwide campaign to save the Little Red Lighthouse and succeeded. It is now a main attraction in Fort Washington Park where the Little Red Lighthouse Festival is held in the fall. There is even an annual eponymous swim that takes place there.
So much for my “discovery!” But while the Little Red Lighthouse might be famous, to me it will always be the hidden treasure I was rewarded with one summer day after a long sweaty bike ride from downtown Manhattan.