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Calling All Boaters - The U.S. is Giving Away Lighthouses for Free

Do you want to own a lighthouse? It's a rhetorical question -- of course you do. Every boater does.

Now you have a chance.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is giving away six historical lighthouses at no cost. Four more will be sold by public auction. The goal, according to GSA, is to preserve these historically significant buildings now that technology has rendered them obsolete.

One of the coolest lighthouses on the list is the Warwick Lighthouse, also known as the Warwick Neck Light, which has been bringing sailors to safety at the mouth of Providence, Rhode Island since the early 1800's.

Back in the early days, vessels going through the West Passage of Narragansett Bay had to contend with a narrow channel between Warwick Neck and Patience Island, less than a mile to the southeast. The area is notorious for producing a fog that's incredibly deceptive -- many boaters involved in collisions have sworn there was no fog at all... until they made impact.

In 1825, The United States Congress appropriated $3000 to build a proper lighthouse on the point at Warwick Neck. The acreage around the point was owned by the Green family, who sold the land for a paltry $750.

Warwick Neck Light
The original Warwick Neck Light / Photo -USCG

The original lighthouse, completed in 1827, comprised of a 30-foot tower atop a small stone dwelling with two rooms -- both about 11 feet square.

The original tower had a square base, but the corners were angled inwards towards the top to create an octagonal shape, making it a unique lighthouse that became instantly identifiable. That structure is now part of the larger buildings on the property.

Further additions in 1833, a relocation to a new foundation in 1892, and the addition of foghorns in 1900 increased the size and capability of the property. In 1985, the lighthouse went automatic, but a Coast Guard family still lives in a modern house on the property built in 1989.

Now it could be yours.

Other lighthouses going up for auction include the Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Light in Cleveland, OH, and the Keweenaw Waterway Lower Entrance Light in Chassell, MI. The list of lighthouses already under supervision that can be transferred include Lynde Point Lighthouse in Old Saybrook, CT, Plymouth/Gurnet Lighthouse in Plymouth, MA, Little Mark Island and Monument in Harpswell, ME, and Erie Harbor North Pier Lighthouse in Erie, PA.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, since the passage of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2000, the GSA has been transferring ownership of lighthouses that are considered “no longer critical to the U.S. Coast Guard’s mission needs.” Most of the purchases and transfers have gone to groups willing to preserve them, according to a statement from the agency.

“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, told the New York Times.

Cleveland West Harbor Pierhead
The Cleveland West Harbor Pierhead / Photo - Erik Drost Wikimedia Commons

While that all sounds fine and dandy (and affordable), there's a couple caveats for potential buyers. First, a pair of structures on the auction list -- the Penfield Reef Lighthouse in Fairfield, CT, and the Stratford Shoal Light in Long Island Sound -- can only be accessed by boat. They are stunning buildings, however. You just need a boat to access them (which, if you're reading this, you probably already do).

The second caveat, according to Smithsonian, is that the GSA is offering them first to federal agencies, state and local governments, non-profits, educational agencies and community development organizations. Several of the lighthouses going up for grabs are already under the care of non-profits, who can apply to continue their arrangement.

The third caveat is that to be eligible as a public buyer, interested parties must be able to maintain the historic property and allow the public to access it. According to the GSA, more than 80 lighthouses have found a new owner via this process, which ensures their continued usage and access for the foreseeable future.

If there isn't a non-profit or government agency who's able/willing to take on the responsibility, then the lighthouses will go up for sale to the public.

So, if you're still frothing at the prospect of buying a $1 dockslip near your local marina, get in touch with the GSA pronto. Even if you lose at the auction, worry not -- Several U.S. states have "volunteer keeper" programs where you can be an overnight lighthouse keeper to get the full experience.

(h/t to Richard Crowder for this article)

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