It was a world apart, but only an hour away. Through the great good fortune of having an inventive, imaginative and adventurous friend, we slept at the Saugerties Lighthouse last month.
On an ordinary level, it was just a birthday party – but this whole event will stay with us for a long time, like a wonderful dream.
Think: history, river, great food and wine, sun, then full moon, adventure, new ideas, thoughts, and people – and the incredibly delightful company of old friends.
OK, the place: Saugerties Lighthouse is a restored historic Hudson River lighthouse, run and funded completely by a private foundation that has my undying admiration. This is an example of what local enterprise can do when people get together for a cause. (check out the Saugerties Lighthouse Conservancy, Inc. at www.saugertieslighthouse.com). With no federal, and almost no state or local governmental funding, this organization has re-created a time and place long gone in our hectic world.
The day started out with packing up all of the things we’d need, or thought we’d need, for a day on the river, a birthday dinner by candlelight, and a comfortable night at the lighthouse. Run as a bed and breakfast to help support the restoration and the lighthouse keeper, there are two upstairs bedrooms, each with a double bed, Victorian furniture, and lots of memorabilia. Although the adequate bathroom is downstairs, I managed to survive my nightly trip with no broken bones.
Our host, who discovered the lighthouse and cooked up this plan, seemed to have provided for all possible eventualities, including finding two “Radio Flyers” at a local Toys R Us, for the half mile walk through the nature preserve, which is the route to the lighthouse. The Hudson River is tidal at this point, with a 4.5 foot average difference between high and low tide, so that one should time one’s entrance accordingly. There are some bridges along the route, and the journey proved to be quite easy, thanks to the food and beverage carrying wagons.
For lovers of birds and wildflowers, this is a most rewarding area.
We however, were intent on arriving at our destination, where Patrick, the handsome young lighthouse and innkeeper, greeted us. He was most helpful in showing us around, and later was to provide us with a delicious breakfast the next morning. Overnight guests are free to use the kitchen facilities for dining in, or can go to one of the nearby restaurants in Saugerties. Rumor has it that Mary Ann’s, a well-liked café in Saugerties, will deliver meals to the lighthouse. However, our friend brought a rather sumptuous meal for our dinner party, (considering it was all trucked in by wagon.)
Once we were settled in our very comfortable rooms, we wandered out to the front terraces of the lighthouse, to take in the gorgeous views all around us. I was immediately captivated by the diverse river traffic, the views across to the east bank of the river, and the sun and the mountains behind us. There are several quite comfortable sitting areas here, with one large tree shading the whole. It became impossible to leave, even though we had intended to go in to Saugerties to do some antiquing. We spent the balance of the afternoon, with the New York Times crossword puzzle, wallowing in the perfect weather, and this unique place.
During the afternoon there were many walkers who came to visit the lighthouse, including a young biker from Albany, a couple came to drink some wine toward the late afternoon, and a couple of families – all friendly and all seemingly thrilled to be there. When evening came, the lighthouse became ours alone. We watched the sunset over the Catskills, as we drank our pre-prandial champagne, and realized how very romantic this charming place was.
When the light was automated in 1954, the present building, which had been built in 1867 (on a stone base, on top of 56 pilings) was sealed airtight. The building soon deteriorated, and the Coast Guard deemed the building too expensive to repair.
After a series of attempts to repair and/or buy the building, it was finally placed on the National Register in 1976, and then in 1985, The Saugerties Lighthouse Conservancy was formed. In 1986, the Conservancy bought the lighthouse from the state for one dollar. What the conservancy received was a loose pile of bricks ready to collapse into the river. The roof and floors had rotted and caved in and the road to the mainland was long gone.
What has happened between now and then is a miraculous and most interesting story. I urge you to drive up to the lighthouse even for a day, for which you can get all the information you need on the web site, or by calling (845) 247-0656. Part of the building, which is accessible to “day-trippers,” is a museum worth seeing.
Or you can book an overnight so you can get the full enjoyment that we had of this unusual experience. I cannot guarantee you our delicious hors d’oeuvres, nor our wonderful supper and salad, nor the luscious chocolate birthday cake, all consumed by candlelight on the riverfront. Nor can I guarantee the amusing company we had, but I can tell you that your breakfast will be unusual.
During the night, when I slept better than expected, there WAS river traffic. (At one point, I must confess, I thought a 747 was headed for our room, but it was only a big barge passing by.)
When we all descended to the period kitchen, none the worse for wear, the first thing Patrick offered was early morning tea and scones. Our friends took theirs out front and enjoyed the morning birds and boats. Later we were served a filling breakfast of orange juice, ham, eggs and pancakes, and coffee or tea. We asked Patrick all the questions we could think of about the place, all of which he answered happily.
It’s the perfect destination – light years away – but close to home.
Betsy Shequine would love to hear about your lighthouse experiences.