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Fixer-uppers with waterfront views: The US is unloading lighthouses

A photo provided by the General Services Administration shows the Stratford Shoal Middle Ground Light Station, in Long Island Sound between New York and Connecticut.GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION/NYT

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.

Sheila Consaul, a communications consultant in Washington, D.C., bought the Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, for about $71,000 at a GSA auction in 2011 and converted it into a summer home.

Consaul’s red-and-white lighthouse, which was built on Lake Erie in 1925, is still a working navigational aid, with a solar-powered beacon maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard and a weather station maintained by the National Weather Service, she said.

“I think my favorite part is having saved such an icon,” Consaul said. “It’s got all the things that a beautiful summer house on the water would have, but it’s so sentimental to so many people in those little towns where they are.”

She warned potential bidders, however, to consider that many lighthouses lack basic utilities and were built in remote locations that are not easily accessible to contractors. She said it had taken her nine years to install running water in her lighthouse.


Still, that “very long journey” has been worth it, Consaul said. She said she loves inviting people from the community to see inside, watching the sunset and gazing at stars.

“There are some amazingly incredible views, as well as history and intrigue,” she said. “All of those things people think about lighthouses are true.”