Hudson lights way to China

If you were in the North Atlantic searching for a new route to China you possible wouldn’t sail up the Hudson River with the anticipation of success, but that’s what Henry Hudson did when he first explored the river which bears his name in 1609.

Although Hudson was English, he’d been hired by the Dutch East Indies Company, which was arguably the world’s most profitable business at the time, to try to find a new, faster route to China so as to boost trade.  Apparently, Hudson thought he was onto a pretty good route until he got about 150 miles up the waterway, near the present town of Albany, and realised that China was going to be well out of his reach.

In his zeal to open up a new trade route to China, Henry Hudson had actually found a very good trade route that would go a long way to opening up trade with America, so his voyage was not completely in vain.

In fact, the Hudson became such a busy trading route after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 that a decision was made to build a series of lighthouses along the river to guide ships and prevent mishaps.  At various times since then, there have been many lighthouses along the Hudson, but most have disappeared over time and now there are just seven left, most of which are no longer operational and serve as museums.

The Hudson-Athens Lighthouse was originally built in 1874 to guide ships around the Middle Ground Flats.  It still has a working fog bell, which is still used on foggy days, and the lighthouse keeper’s original living quarters have also been restored.

The Saugerties Lighthouse was built in 1869 to replace an earlier building and operated until 1954 when it was finally de-commissioned.  Today the lighthouse operates as a B&B, so gives visitors the chance the experience what lighthouse life would have been like.

In Kingston the Rondout Lighthouse was built in 1915, near the entrance to the Rondout Creek.  This attractive lighthouse is nowadays administered by the Hudson River Maritime Museum and gives visitors a good glimpse of the type of vessels that used to ply the river, and an understanding of what river life was really like.

Further down river is the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, which occupies a small island in the river. It was built in 1839 and operated up until 1965.  Unlike the other surviving lighthouses, this one was made of timber and is in reasonably poor shape.

The Stony Point Lighthouse is the oldest remaining lighthouse on the river, being built in 1826.   It is also one of the best preserved as it was completely renovated in the 1990s when it was opened for visitors.    

The building of the Tappan Zee Bridge made the Lighthouse at Sleepy Hollow somewhat redundant.  It was built in 1883 and today survives as a museum.

Officially called the Jeffreys Hook Lighthouse, it is better known to many as the Little Red Lighthouse thanks to it being immortalised in a children’s book.  That book “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge” by Hildegard H. Swift, illustrated by Lynd Ward, actually saved the lighthouse from demolition because of its popularity with children.  The Great Grey Bridge is the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest traffic bridge, which was is well lit its lowly neighbour was made redundant.

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