To celebrate this very special day that serves to remind of us the once crucial role these beacons-cum-private residences played in maritime history before they were rendered largely obsolete by navigational technology, here’s a quick look at my favorite lighthouse.
But before I get to that, I should make it clear that while American lighthouses are no longer manned by wick-trimming live-in keepers (Boston Light was the last officially manned lighthouse in the U.S.), these picturesque traffic lights at sea continue to symbolize safety and comfort for thousands upon thousands of vessels. Rep. William J. Hughes (D-NJ), a tireless protector of the New Jersey Shore who effectively ended the dumping of toxic chemicals and sewage sludged into the ocean, remarked in his 1989 speech to the House of Representatives on the very first National Lighthouse Day:
As America continues its technological progress into the 21st century, it becomes easy to forget the wholesomeness and serenity of preindustrial establishments such as lighthouses. The history they provide gives us the opportunity to step back in time and learn more about our country. The contributions they made to our society, from protecting our coasts to guiding our sailors, should continue to be appreciated and remembered.
I’ve had the pleasure of stepping inside a handful of lighthouse towers and keepers quarters including the historic Fire Island Lighthouse
which was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1974, reactivated in 1986, and currently remains opens to visitors as a museum while serving as a private navigational aid maintained by the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society.
Still, the one structure that’s managed to stir up my lighthouse lust like no other is one that I’ve actually never stepped foot inside of: The Saugerties Lighthouse.
Located along the mighty Hudson River at the confluence of the Esopus Creek just north of the village of Saugerties, I’ve visited the grounds surrounding this landmark 1869 beacon
(its Coast Guard service ended in the mid-1950s) twice now including a couple weeks back when my timing was a bit off and I ended up wading through murky, ankle-deep water to reach it.
Here’s the thing: To access the Saugerties Lighthouse, visitors must travel down a densely wooded half-mile nature trail (it’s about a 15 minute walk) that winds along tidal wetland flats to the end of a peninsula where a bridge connects the shoal-bound lighthouse and its decks to the mainland. It’s a scenic stroll for sure, but you have to mind your tide tables as portions of the trail become completely submerged during high tide, severing the lighthouse from land.
But tidal flooding isn’t the reason I’ve never been inside of the Saugerties Lighthouse. The red-brick Italianite dwelling now operates as a bed and breakfast
and unless you’ve arranged for a private viewing or signed up for a docent-guided tour on a summertime Sunday afternoon, entry inside the lighthouse is limited to overnight guests.
Aside from B&B guests, the Saugerties Lighthouse also has two full-time residents, Patrick Landewe and Anna Berkheiser, who function more or less as hosts and groundskeepers since the lighthouse’s navigational functions — it was re-commissioned complete with a solar-powered LED beacon in the tower’s lantern room in 1990 — are pretty much on auto-pilot.
Operated by the Saugerties Lighthouse Conservancy
, the bed and breakfast is open to guests from Thursdays through Sundays year-round and includes two second-floor guestrooms with double beds that share a first-floor bathroom and common kitchen. There’s also a third bedroom that now functions as a small museum open to overnight guests and visitors on scheduled tours. The sweeping views of the Hudson and the Catskill Mountains enjoyed from the rooms are stunning to say the least.
While there is running water in the lighthouse, the toilet is of the composting variety. And keeping in line with the rustic 20th century vibe of the property, there is no air conditioning. During the winter, the structure is heated by coal-fired stoves. And remember, guests must travel down the nature trail (or arrive by private boat) with their belongings to reach the lighthouse and if they wish to leave after sundown or during high tide, they’re pretty much out of luck. But, really, what an outrageously romantic place to marooned.
That being said, the B&B at the Saugerties Lighthouse — rates are $225 a night — is completely booked through 2013. Dogs and hair dryers are not allowed and check-in/check-out is often dependant on the tides.
While I’ve enjoyed the lighthouse’s exterior public areas, walked its nature trail, and poked around Saugerties proper
on several occassions (hometown of Jimmy Fallon, by the way), spending the night inside of the Saugerties Lighthouse during the winter — yes, winter — remains a bucket-lister for me.
Do you have an all-time favorite lighthouse? And have you ever had the chance to spend the night inside of one?
Photo credits in order they appear: Top exterior shots and view of swimmer in Hudsons: Matt Hickman; Kitchen and nightime shot of Hudson River: OooTooO/Flickr; Lamp, window view, and exterior winter shot: Michael Cory/Flickr; Trail Signage and rear exterior: PilotGirl/Flickr;