New York isn't necessarily known for its lighthouses; however the Empire State certainly has a unique collection of them - many along the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, and the Great Lakes. Sleepy Hollow Light is located 25 miles north New York City along the Hudson River, which flows 315 miles from the Adirondack Mountains to New York Bay. The river varies from 0.5 to 3.5 miles wide.
A lighthouse was first proposed for Tarrytown Point in 1847, to warn passing ships of shoals along the eastern shore. However the project was severely delayed by disputes on the light's location and then the cost to procure the land at Kingsland Point, which was a vineyard at the time.
It took more than 30 years to determine that the lighthouse should be constructed in the river instead of on land. The lighthouse kit arrived via river barge in 1883, and was positioned about half a mile from shore. It was first lit on October 1, 1883, and Jacob Ackerman was appointed the first keeper.
The 56-foot tall lighthouse is a caisson, also called a sparkplug or bug light. This just means the superstructure rests on either a concrete or metal caisson. The living quarters are generally inside the lighthouse structure, which is almost always cast iron. This design is more cost-effective and durable than the previously popular screw-pile lighthouse, which consisted of a lighthouse on piles screwed into either sandy or muddy river or ocean bottoms.
About a decade after the lighthouse was built, the North Tarrytown Assembly plant opened onshore. It was first operated by Stanley Steam Car Company and then acquired by Maxwell Briscoe in 1903. The automobile factory was later acquired by Chevrolet in 1913, which was integrated into General Motors 5 years later. This 90-acre factory was the most prominent neighbor to the small sparkplug.
General Motors was one of the largest sources of pollution on the Hudson River. At its peak, it used about 1 million gallons of water a day, which would be dumped into the river as waste. This startling quote by ecologist Dominick Pirone is very striking, "you can tell what color cars they were painting on a given day by what color the river is."
As production increased, General Motors required more land for building so the company created new land in the riverbed in 1923. This land reclamation caused the lighthouse to go from being a half mile offshore to only about 50 feet.
The General Motors factory wasn't all bad news. It established Tarrytown as a manufacturing hub and, although manufacturing structures aren't typically built for their aesthetic value, some of the plant's buildings were designed by well-known architects--namely Stanford White. From 1915 to 1996, the plant fueled the local economy and was the region's largest employer. Nearly 12 million cars and trucks were produced in the plant's lifetime.
The sparkplug lighthouse was automated in 1957, ending the line of 12 lighthouse keepers since 1883. After the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River in 1958, the lights on the bridge rendered the lighthouse obsolete and it was decommissioned in 1965. Westchester County later acquired the light in 1974 and it was listed on the National Register in 1979. Around this time, a footbridge was built out to the light.
Exactly 100 years after its opening as a car factory, General Motors closed its doors in 1996, and 2,100 local workers were dismissed. Demolition began in 1999. The vacant site that once was General Motors became known as Lighthouse Landing. The lot was sold in 2014 for a staggering $39.5 million and development of the Edge-on-Hudson began in 2016. The 70-acre project includes 1,200 housing units, a 140-room hotel, 135,000 square feet of retail space, 30,000 square feet of office space, and more than 16 acres of parkland.
Today the town periodically offers tours of the 1883 sparkplug lighthouse and the best place to view it is from Kingsland Point Park. Westchester County began a major renovation of the lighthouse in July of 2022, to stabilize the structure and prevent further deterioration. The project is expected to take nearly a year.
Jacob Ackerman (1883-1904)
Jules H. Gregoire (1904-1907)
August Kjelberg (1907-?)
John Brown (1919-1930)
John A. Tatay (1930-1935)
Arthur J. Minzner (1935-1940)
William O. Singer (1940-1941)
Thomas F. Walker (1941-1942)
Harold D. Fischer (1942-1943)
Laureat Leclerc (1943-1954)
Edward Brown (1954-1955)
Richard Moreland (1955-1958)
Fred C. Fleck (1958-1965)