The Federal government is selling off lighthouses and to date, 68 have been donated, while another 36 have been sold at public auction. Of those sold, the lighthouses will be turned into museums, vacation rental properties, and bed-and-breakfast inns.
In all, the Federal government plans to do away with over 100 lighthouses. This in response to a advances in technology whereby the old lighthouses are simply not needed anymore. This process has been going on for the past 14 years but recently, there have been a number of properties that have gone on the market, including some iconic lighthouses.
The Graves Island Light Station that sits in the Boston Harbor was purchased by Dave Waller for just under $1 million last year. He plans to transform the lighthouse into a private residence that can double as a rental for vacationers. But in a structure that offers just 750 feet of livable space, and this has proven to be a challenge.
Under the 2000 National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, the government is allowed to dispose of lighthouses it owns. The Coast Guard also maintains lighthouses and reportedly has 71 additional locations that are ready to go through the process of transfer while another four are currently being auctioned off.
In all, the Coast Guard has ownership of 254 lighthouses and maintains the decision as to which ones will be kept and which properties will be sold sometime in the future. As stated by Jeff Gales, executive director of US Lighthouse Society, a non-for-profit organization, with a limited number of lighthouses, there is an end in sight for this process.
Lighthouses are sold by the federal General Services Administration and when asked their target number, they said there was nothing set as far as the number that will be sold versus donated. However, a spokesperson acknowledged that the Coast Guard is always trying to get rid of lighthouses that are no longer deemed critical to the work they do.
In terms of some of the hottest offerings, the online auction for Maine’s Halfway Rock Light Station is almost complete. This particular lighthouse drew a lot of interest and, in fact, more than six people bid to purchase the lighthouse with the highest bid reaching almost a quarter of a million dollars. Considering this particular lighthouse can only be reached by boat, that is an impressive offer.
Among the lighthouses up for transfer, usually those that can be accessed by land are transferred quickly to different historic preservation groups. However, of those accessible only by water or that are in disrepair, attracting interested bidders is extremely difficult.
There are lighthouses on the market all over the country. Currently, Michigan has three up for sale. If a non-profit or government agency does not step up to purchase any of these lighthouses, they could go up for public auction. The three in Michigan include the Middle Island Lighthouse, Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse, and Thunder Bay, which resides across from the South Pierhead, South Haven, and Alpena lighthouse.
Lighthouses have long played a critical role in keeping sailors safe at sea. The guiding light helped bring ships home safely, even during the most powerful storms. Sadly, with modern navigation and GPS, the service of lighthouses is no longer in demand. More than anything, they serve as a reminder of their past importance, while being great tourist attractions.