Last Updated on August 17, 2023
Lighthouses have safely guided mariners for centuries. Their beacons shine brightly on dark and stormy nights. Their mournful sounds lead sailors through fog banks hovering over sea and rocky shore. They weather the wind and tempest season after season.
Lighthouse keepers once stood lonely watches atop these majestic towers welcoming travelers ashore. While many lighthouses have been abandoned, others have been restored and given purpose by a new generation.
Thousands of visitors trek sandy beaches, climb jagged rocks, and traverse winding roads to marvel at these sentinels. I am one of them. I have ascended endless winding steps to capture breathtaking ocean views leaves a lasting impression.
Although I can hardly recall my first lighthouse visit, I remember gathering shells along the beaches of Long Island with a lighthouse shining brightly nearby. I have marveled at their size and larger-than-life presence. Those days of wonder became the foundation for fostering my interest in lighthouses.
Yes, lighthouses prominently stand on coastlines against the crashing waves, but they also protect other important waterways. Rivers appear calm and free-flowing, but there are often dangerous, immoveable sandbars, muddy flats, and jagged shoals not in view. These obstacles create hazardous conditions for river travel that greatly impact commerce and trade.
Flashing illuminations once again ensure safe passage for boats and ships.
About the Hudson River
The Hudson River is a 315-mile waterway originating in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. The mouth of the Hudson begins at the highest point of the state, Mount Marcy. It flows southward to Upper New York Bay emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
The river was named for the English explorer Henry Hudson who sailed the river in 1609. The Hudson is also the eastern outlet for the Erie Canal and became a crucial transportation route in the early 19th century.
At one time, there were 14 lighthouses located along the river. As time passed, many fell into disrepair or were destroyed.
Today, seven lighthouses remain that you can visit and learn about life along the Hudson River. These seven lighthouses dot the landscape stretching from upper Manhattan in the south to Hudson, New York in the north.
Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse
The lighthouse journey begins in upper Manhattan at Jeffrey’s Hook, better known as The Little Red Lighthouse. “Little Red” sits underneath the George Washington Bridge in Fort Washington Park.
It was made famous by the 1942 children’s book “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge” written by Hildegarde H. Swift and illustrated by the father of graphic art, Lynd Ward.
It was the success of this children’s book that insured the beacon still stands. The Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse in 1948 and it was slated for demolition in 1951.
Children near and far started a campaign to save the lighthouse. Thanks to their determined efforts, the lighthouse was taken over by the New York City Dept. of Parks and Recreation. In 1991, it was designated a New York City landmark.
Although the storied lighthouse is not open to the public, there is an annual celebration of the Little Red Lighthouse in late September. This 40-foot tall, conical-shaped beacon can be reached from roads and paths along the Hudson River Greenway located in the Washington Heights neighborhood.
Sailing 20-miles north of Manhattan, you arrive at the Tarrytown Lighthouse, also known as the Kingsland Point Light or Sleepy Hollow Light. It is the only lighthouse located in Westchester County and the only one on the lower Hudson with living quarters.
The sparkplug lighthouse was erected in 1883 to warn ships away from dangerous shoals extending between Tarrytown and Ossining’s towns. The lighthouse is accessible by a footpath in Kingsland Point County Park in the Village of Sleepy Hollow.
The lighthouse is expected to reopen in late 2023 following renovations.
Traveling 25-miles further north, you arrive at Stony Point, N.Y., and the Stony Point Lighthouse. This is the oldest lighthouse along the Hudson River. It was built in 1826 on the site of one of the Revolutionary War’s last battles.
A light keeper’s job was not easy, and women often assumed the keeper’s role if their husbands became ill or died. The Rose family were light keepers at Stony Point for over 50 years. When Alexander Rose died in 1857, Nancy Rose cared for the light until her death in 1904.
On one occasion during a dense fog, Mrs. Rose remained at her post for 56 straight hours, tolling the fog bell every 30 seconds. In 1901, when a passenger ship The Poughkeepsie ran aground, Mrs. Rose provided food and shelter to the grateful stranded travelers.
This octagonal-shaped lighthouse is perched on a hill surrounded by picturesque grounds sporting breathtaking views of the river. There is also a historical museum on site that showcases the life and history of the lighthouse and its keepers along with a fourth-order Fresnel lens like the original housed in the lighthouse tower.
Stony Point Lighthouse is closed to the public, except for special occasions.
Lighthouse visitors interested in military history might consider a short drive north to the West Point Military Academy.
Esopus Meadows Lighthouse
Journeying 52-miles further leads to the town of Port Ewen. The Esopus Meadows Lighthouse here is fondly called the Maid of the Meadows. The stately structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
It is the last wooden lighthouse on the Hudson River, erected in 1839 to warn ships of the Esopus Meadows mudflats. The lighthouse is only accessible by boat with tours leaving from Kingston, N.Y.
Once the capital city, Kingston is 91-miles north of New York City at the Catskill Mountains base on Rondout Creek.
Rondout II Lighthouse
The first Rondout Creek Lighthouse was erected in 1837 to warn mariners of shallow tidal flats at the Rondout Creek’s mouth. The current lighthouse, known as Rondout II, is a two-and-a-half story yellow brick structure that still operates as a navigational aid.
This lighthouse is only accessible by boat. Seasonal tours are available to both Esopus Meadows and Rondout Lighthouse from the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston.
Heading 13 miles north, you arrive at the Saugerties Lighthouse. This charming, brick dwelling is accessible by both land and water. It also functions as a quaint bed and breakfast open year-round. There is also a gift shop, parlor and keepers’ quarters on the premises.
A winding, half-mile nature trail leads to the lighthouse from the parking area at the trailhead.
The Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, or Hudson City Light, is the northernmost lighthouse, built in 1874. It stands atop a granite caisson in the river between the towns of Hudson and Athens.
The lighthouse was constructed in the Second Empire-style. A prominent feature is its mansard roof, a steep double-pitched roof with dormer windows. This architecture style was also used on the Stepping Stones Lighthouse in Long Island Sound built several years later.
A River Reclaimed
The Hudson Valley’s natural beauty served as an inspiration for writers and artists in years past and continues to inspire today. It was here that 18th-century author Washington Irving wrote his classic tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Thomas Cole founded The Hudson River School of landscape painting during the same time period.
Conservation groups and volunteer organizations continue to spearhead efforts to preserve lighthouse history and life along the Hudson River. It was not too long ago that pollution and neglect threatened the river’s treasured past and future prosperity.
Today, the Hudson River flows freely and welcomes visitors who can explore this iconic waterway by car, boat, train, and along its many hiking trails.
And the lighthouses of the Hudson River continue serving as guideposts to the past, present and future, reminding visitors of the river’s historical importance and the need to nurture and preserve it for generations to come.