Visiting the Lighthouses of the Hudson River
A working lighthouse that’s also a cozy B&B, the Saugerties Lighthouse is both historic and romantic. Check out some of our favorite Hudson River lighthouses
Photograph by Michael Kelsey
“If there is anything more romantic than the Saugerties Lighthouse, I simply don’t know what it could be. We have no interest in leaving the lighthouse. Ever.” So wrote a Budget Travel reporter in 2006 after visiting the 1835 brick building-turned-two-bedroom B&B. We concur. Perfectly perched where the Esopus Creek runs into the mighty Hudson River, the lighthouse can only be accessed by boat or on foot via a half-mile trail through a pretty nature preserve. The fact that the trail is partially submerged under water twice a day? That only seems to add to the romance factor.
Of course, lighthouses have been captivating Americans for generations. The Erie Canal opened in 1825; the new waterway — in conjunction with the Hudson — linked New York City to the Midwest, and boat traffic increased exponentially. The following year, the river’s first lighthouse appeared at Stony Point. Eventually 14 lighthouses shone their lanterns on the water; steamboats, tugboats, and cargo ships all depended on the lights to safely traverse the river. Modern navigational tools have rendered most of the Hudson’s beacons obsolete, but eight of the original lighthouses remain. Many of these had fallen into disrepair — some were even slated for demolition — before being saved by local municipalities or citizen-led nonprofit groups formed to save and manage these one-of-a-kind buildings.
Views of the Saugerties Lighthouse
Built on a massive circular stone base, the present Saugerties Lighthouse became operational in 1869. In 1954, the Coast Guard automated the light; the building was closed up and began a steady decline into decay. But in 1979, local historian Ruth Reynolds Glunt succeeded in getting the lighthouse placed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Even so, in the early 1980s the building was so decrepit that the beacon was removed from the tower and placed on a separate post.) After extensive fund-raising and restoration, the lighthouse was officially recommissioned as an aid to navigation in 1990. The B&B was established not long after.
Patrick Landewe landed the gig as the Saugerties lighthouse keeper about 10 years ago. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” says Landewe, who had been working on the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, the environmental education vessel built by folk singer Pete Seeger. Were there any surprises that first year? “I was given fair warning that this wasn’t your stereotypical lonely-lightkeeper-on-some-remote-island job. This places sees a lot of foot traffic, and you have to deal with a lot of people on a daily basis,” says Landewe, noting that the grounds are open to the public every day from dawn to dusk. “Still, there was a steep learning curve in understanding the tides and how that affects coming and going and getting around in boats.” Daytrippers arrive via the aforementioned path, and kayakers often pull up on the sandy beach or alongside the dock. A small island adjacent to the lighthouse has five picnic tables, a porta-potty, and several fruit trees. “It’s first-come, first-served. People come to enjoy the view and bring a picnic,” says Landewe. “While it’s not a designated bathing beach, people do wade in and splash around.”
View from the lighthouse deck (left); the interior of one of the guest rooms
The lighthouse interior is usually reserved for overnight guests, with the exception of public tours on summer Sunday afternoons from noon to 3 p.m. B&B guests are treated to a large, family-style breakfast cooked up by Landewe or his wife Anna, who lives with him in the small keeper’s quarters. In addition, guests have access to the lighthouse tower. “There is a steep set of stairs — and then an even steeper ladder,” says Landewe. “Some people get to the bottom landing and decide it is not for them. Most people who do make the climb think it is worth it for the view.”
And then there is the romance factor. “We’ve had a lot of engagements up in that tower,” says Landewe. “People will come down to breakfast and announce that they got engaged the night before; that’s fairly common. It’s nice, we’ve seen relationships mature; some guests come back year after year after year. We see them in the early stages and then they get married and welcome kids into the family. People seek it out as a romantic destination and then become attached to it.”
These days, the light is an automated, solar-powered, high-intensity LED that turns on automatically at dusk. The Coast Guard comes out to inspect it once a year. “If there are any issues, we give them a call,” says Landewe. “In 10 years, there was just one time when the light wasn’t working; the batteries went dead during a particularly cold winter.”
Landewe is well-versed in the stories of the previous lightkeepers. Of particular interest is Kate Crowley, who took over as the keeper from her ailing father when she was still a teenager. “Apparently, she and her sister rescued a couple of sailors whose sloop had capsized; she pulled them out of the river. They also rescued people who had fallen through the ice.” When asked about his own tales of daring-do, Landewe laughs. “Well, there is nothing of that stature. It’s more often people who were kayaking after having a little too much to drink and couldn’t get themselves home against the tide.” All in a day’s work. www.saugertieslighthouse.com
Esopus Meadows Lighthouse
Nicknamed “the Maid of the Meadows,” this light near Esopus was completed in 1871 to warn mariners about the pesky mud flats nearby. The house was tended by a keeper until 1965 when the light was converted to an automatic solar-powered system. In 2003, after 38 years of darkness, a new light was installed in the tower. Call for tour dates and prices. 845-848-3669; www.esopusmeadowslighthouse.org
The hazards created by the Middle Ground Flats, a former sandbar opposite the city of Hudson, led to the erection of this lighthouse in 1872; it was shut down in the 1950s. Today, the trusty fortress once again serves as a reliable navigation tool for ships in the night. Tour dates for 2016 are July 9, Aug. 13, Sept. 10, and Oct. 8. $25, $10 children. 518-828-5294; www.hudsonathenslighthouse.org
The Little Red Lighthouse
The correct name of this beacon, located in Fort Washington Park in upper Manhattan, is actually the Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse. Opened in 1889, it was rendered obsolete after the George Washington Bridge was constructed in the 1930s — a story made famous by the beloved 1942 children’s book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. 212-830-7700; www.nycgovparks.org
This brick structure was completed in 1915 and makes the entrance to the Rondout Creek. Operated by the Hudson River Maritime Museum (which is hosting the popular exhibit, Hudson River Lighthouses: Past and Present this summer), the lighthouse contains period furnishings and exhibits. Visit www.hrmm.org for information about scheduled tours.
Stony Point Lighthouse
Commissioned in 1826, this octagonal lighthouse sits atop a high peninsula jutting directly into Haverstraw Bay. Although it was decommissioned in 1925, the light tower was automated by the Coast Guard in 1973 and still serves as a navigational aid. During the 99 years that the lighthouse was manned, only one vessel ran aground — the steamer Poughkeepsie in March 1901 — with no loss of life. The building is located on the grounds of the Stony Point Battlefield Historic Site, which hosts many fun events throughout the summer. The interior of the lighthouse is closed this season, but check out the rare period Fresnel lens inside the site’s museum. 845-786-2521; www.nysparks.com
Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse
This light was once located a half-mile offshore, warning ships away from dangerous shoals on the east side of the river. Years of landfill by a now-demolished General Motors factory moved the shoreline within a few feet of the light. The cast-iron tower was installed in 1883. During its 78 years of operation, 12 lightkeepers and their families occupied the five-story structure. The light was operated until 1961 when illumination from the Tappan Zee Bridge rendered it obsolete. Tours are offered by the village of Sleepy Hollow on the following Sundays: Apr. 24; May 8, 22; June 5, 19; July 3, 17, 31; Aug. 14 and 28. $5, $3 children. 914-366-5109; www.sleepyhollowny.gov
You don’t recognize this lighthouse? That’s because the 1853 West Point Lighthouse, built on rocky Gee’s Point at the U.S. Military Academy, is long gone. Click here to see photos and read stories of other Hudson River “ghost” lighthouses.