Fort Washington Park

New Yorkers Celebrate Manhattan’s Beloved—and Only—Lighthouse

Saturday, September 16, 2006
No. 78

Today hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at the 14th annual celebration of Manhattan’s beloved Little Red Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park.  Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer—better known as Dr. Ruth—and Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe entertained the audience with a reading of The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.  The children’s book inspired fans, who banded together to save the lighthouse from destruction in 1948.  At the festival, local officials including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Council Member Robert Jackson, and residents young and old toured the lighthouse, listened to live music by Orville Davis and the Stout Trio, had their faces painted and enjoyed food, historic demonstrations and more.

"The Little Red Lighthouse has had a special place in the hearts of children around the world for many decades," said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe.  "It is also literally a beacon illuminating the City's proud maritime history and culture.  All across New York City we are building and restoring waterfront parks and interpreting the rich history of our shoreline.  We are proud to team up with the Historic House Trust and the New York Restoration Project to celebrate this humble but very, very proud lighthouse and the great park it sits in."

The 40-foot lighthouse, officially named Jeffrey’s Hook, was erected in 1880 and moved to its current site along the treacherous section of the Hudson River in 1921.  When the George Washington Bridge opened above the lighthouse in 1931, the lights of the bridge made the lighthouse obsolete.  The Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse in 1948 with a plan to auction it off.  But the popular children’s book, written by Hildegarde Swift and with illustrations by Lynd Ward, prompted a public outcry that saved the lighthouse. 

On July 23, 1951, the Coast Guard gave the property to Parks, and on May 29, 1979, the Little Red Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1986, Parks hosted a party in honor of the lighthouse’s 65th anniversary and to celebrate $209,000 in renovations that included reconstruction of the concrete foundation and the installation of new steel doors.  In 2000, the lighthouse received a fresh coat of red paint that is true to its original, historic color, along with new interior lighting and electric lines.  Today, it is Manhattan’s only lighthouse and has become widely known as the children’s literary landmark “The Little Red Lighthouse.”  The icon is celebrated as a reminder of our city’s history and of the lesson of the book—that even small things can be important.

The festival is sponsored by Con Edison.  The Little Red Lighthouse is a member of Historic House Trust, a not-for-profit organization operating in tandem with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.  Their mission is to provide essential support for houses of architectural and cultural significance, spanning 350 years of New York City life.  These treasures reside within City parks and are open to the public.

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Directions to Fort Washington Park

Know Before You Go

ParkFort Washington Park

The Fort Washington Pedestrian Bridge, or "Amtrak Bridge," at West 180th Street is open to the public. The width of the bridge has been narrowed for safety reasons. Bikers will be asked to dismount their bikes to cross the bridge. An active capital project will fully repair the outer support structures of the bridge and restore it to its original width. Please visit our Capital Projects Tracker to track the progress of this project.

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