4 Lighthouses the Government Is Giving Away for Free

A lighthouse off of the Florida coast

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The Federal Government no longer wants these obsolete lighthouses in the Florida Keys – so they're giving them away.

Alright, folks, it's time to ignite the brain's Escape Fantasy sector and start daydreaming about owning a little bit of history, because the government is giving away lighthouses again. Thanks to the brilliant National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the country's obsolete lighthouses do not go gentle into that good night. Instead, they are given or sold to interested parties who can restore and maintain them. The act allows the government to first offer them to public bodies or nonprofit corporations at no cost. If a steward is not found through this process, then the General Services Administration (GSA) conducts a public sale of the light station.

In the years since the act was passed, the GSA has transferred 137 lighthouses to eligible entities – 79 have gone to public bodies, including nonprofits, through stewardship transfers, the other 58 were sold to members of the general public through auction.

We have covered these transfers and sales in previous years, because, well: Free historic lighthouses. This crop deviates from past offerings, however, in that all four up for transfer are of the "cast iron screw-pile tower" type. Meaning that they are awesome tower constructions that look a bit more Mad Max than a seaside postcard.

The current offerings are part of a collection of offshore lighthouses built to mark the shallow waters of the Florida keys; their skeleton style was chosen to help resist hurricanes. Even so, all of them have keeper's quarters, so rest assured that one would have a place to rest assured.

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Alligator Reef Light: Islamorada, Florida

credit: NOAA Photo Library/Flickr

This 148-foot cast iron tower with keeper’s quarters and landing dock is located approximately four miles offshore of Islamorada, Florida, in what locals say is the second-most snorkeled spot on the Keys reef.

Built in 1873, the light was named in honor of the USS Alligator, a Navy schooner that ran aground there in 1822 while patrolling for pirates.

There are just three words to keep in mind here: Location, location, location. See exhibit A, below.

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American Shoal Lighthouse: Sugarloaf Key, Florida

credit: Florida Keys--Public Libraries/Flickr | AlexanderZam/Shutterstock | GSA

Built in 1880, the American Shoal Lighthouse is about six miles offshore of Sugarloaf Key, Florida. The tower measures in at 109 feet, with the keeper's octagonal quarters on a platform 40 feet above the water.

You may recognize this beauty from a U.S. Postal Service stamp from 1990, about 25 years before the light was deactivated.

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Carysfort Reef Light: Key Largo, Florida

credit: Bob Krugler

Located six miles offshore of Key Largo, Florida, the lovely Carysfort Reef Light is a 124-foot tall octagonal tower with a two-story keeper's quarters, complete with landing dock. Built in 1852, it was the oldest functioning lighthouse of its type in the United States, until it was deactivated in 2015. It was named for the HMS Carysfort (1766), a 20-gun Royal Navy post ship that met its fate on the reef in 1770.

The video below shows the spectacular views and interior shots. Yes, it's a fixer-upper, but wow is it charming.

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Sombrero Key Light: Marathon, Florida

credit: NOAA Photo Library/Flickr | US Coast Guard/PH3 Dan R. Boyd, USCG

A tip of the hat to Sombrero Key Light, located seven miles offshore of Vaca Key in Marathon, Florida. The lighthouse is located on a mostly submerged reef and started service in 1858. The 142-foot tower has two platforms; the upper one, which houses the keeper's quarters, is 40 feet above the water. The Sombrero Key Light is the tallest lighthouse in the Florida Keys

While the lighthouse was deactivated in 2015, the original lens (a first-order Fresnel lens) can still be seen in the Key West Lighthouse Museum.