Fixer-uppers with waterfront views: The U.S. is unloading lighthouses

Waves wash over rocks as a beacon of light shines across the rocky shore from the Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett, R.I., Saturday, April 25, 2020. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Looking for a place with waterfront views? The government might have a deal for you.

The General Services Administration said Friday that it was giving away six lighthouses to nonprofits or government agencies that promise to maintain them, and planned to sell four others to the public at auction.


The lighthouses are on some of the most picturesque waters in New England and the Midwest. But aspiring lightkeepers should be prepared to do some repair work before living out their 19th century maritime fantasies.

Many of the majestic beacons, which were once vital to protecting sailors from reefs and rocky coastlines, have fallen into neglect and disrepair as navigational technology has advanced into the GPS age.

Some may be accessible only by boat, such as the Stratford Shoal Light, perched on a submerged reef in the middle of Long Island Sound, midway between the New York and Connecticut coasts, and the 51-foot-tall octagonal Penfield Reef Lighthouse off Fairfield, Connecticut, which includes a two-story house with keeper’s quarters.

Also available at auction are the 68-foot-tall Keweenaw Waterway Lower Entrance Light, in Chassell, Michigan, which opened in 1919 and marks the southern end of the Portage River, and the Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Light at the entrance to Cleveland Harbor, with a view of that city’s skyline.

“They’re such unusual reflections of our history that it takes a certain kind of person who wants to be a part of that,” Robin Carnahan, administrator of the GSA, said in an interview Friday.

In addition to the four lighthouses slated for auction, six lighthouses have been offered at no cost to local, state, and federal agencies, nonprofits, educational groups and community development organizations that have the money to maintain them and that promise to make them available to the public at “reasonable times and under reasonable conditions,” the GSA said.

Those lighthouses are the Lynde Point Lighthouse in Old Saybrook, Connecticut; the Nobska Lighthouse in Woods Hole, Massachusetts: the Plymouth (Gurnet) Lighthouse in Plymouth, Massachusetts; the Warwick Neck Light in Warwick, Rhode Island; the Little Mark Island and Monument in Harpswell, Maine; and the Erie Harbor North Pier Lighthouse in Erie, Pennsylvania. The initial offering phase for the Erie lighthouse recently closed, the GSA said.

Since Congress passed a law authorizing the government to transfer ownership of lighthouses in 2000, more than 150 have been conveyed to new owners, including 81 that have been handed over to state, local and nonprofit agencies and about 70 that have been sold at auctions.

Prices at auctions have ranged from $10,000 to $933,888, according to the GSA.

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