6 Lighthouses the Government Is Giving Away or Selling

Red and white striped lighthouse surrounded by water

John_Brueske / Getty Images 

If your hermit dream-home fantasy includes the sound of waves and a foghorn...

So you wanna buy a lighthouse? How about get one for free? The federal government has made a practice of unloading obsolete lighthouses – they’ve shed more than 100 of the iconic structures in the last decade and a half. And while these clearly aren't Passive Houses and may not be all that practical, there's a lot to be said for historic preservation and giving old structures new life. Not to mention the opportunity to live in a lighthouse!

Lighthouses listed on the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) site have been determined to be “excess to the needs of the United States Coast Guard.” First the government looks to transfer them for free to qualified entities – such as a non-profit, educational agency, or community development organization – for education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes. But lighthouses that don’t draw any interested stewards – often because of inaccessibility (bonus!) – are put up for auction. So if you are part of an eligible group, you can investigate getting a free lighthouse; or you can see which ones become available for auction, where they sell from 5 to 6 figures.

One of these is listed at an initial bid of $15,000 with no bidders yet. Following are some of the lovely lighthouses currently available (you can also sign up for emails alerts for new (old) lighthouses as they become available). First up, Superior Harbor South Breakwater Light.

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Superior Harbor South Breakwater Light

Superior Harbor South Breakwater Light at sunset

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1. Superior Harbor South Breakwater Light: Superior, Wisconsin The description of a "Rectangular concrete fog signal building topped with concrete cylindrical tower, 56 feet in height," doesn't do this structure (also known as the Wisconsin Point Light) much justice. But look at it, it's hard to resist its charms. Built in 1913, it sits on a long concrete pier between the ports of Duluth and Superior in Superior Bay, which is a natural harbor in the southwest corner of Lake Superior. Here is a telling description of the building describing its original configuration:

The second floor made up the living quarters, with a kitchen, living room, three bedrooms and a bathroom. The circular tower rose through the sheet metal roof at the offshore end of the building, with a spiral stairway leading from the second floor. The circular tower protruded from the offshore end of the building, and featured two floors, the lowest of which housed a pair of six-inch air sirens with their resonators protruding out the wall, and the second serving as a service room. Atop the service room, a copper-roofed circular lantern room with helical astragals, housed a fixed Fourth Order Fresnel with a rotating screen within the lens.
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Penfield Reef Lighthouse

Penfield Reef Lighthouse on a stony island

Hallettx / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

2. Penfield Reef Lighthouse: Long Island Sound, Connecticut This Second Empire style cutie was built in 1874 and can be found off the coast of Fairfield in western Long Island Sound near the entrance to Black Rock Harbor. It is comprised of a 51-foot tall octagonal light structure connected to the square two-story keeper’s quarters building that is made of granite and timber frames. It comes with its own boat landing. Penfield was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, but the Coast Guard applied for a disaster relief grant from the Historic Preservation Fund and was able to fully restore Penfield, both structurally and architecturally, back to its 19th century splendor. Basically, it's a gorgeous historic fixer-upper that's been all fixed up! All you need is some foul-weather gear and a boat.

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White Shoal Light

White Shoal Light, Lake Michigan

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3. White Shoal Light, Lake Michigan With an asking bid of $15,000, this delightful candy cane of a lighthouse has been made famous for its representation on the "Save Our Lights" license plate for the State of Michigan. It is so cool. Sure it's in a remote part of northern Lake Michigan, but who needs neighbors when you have a 9-story round lighthouse? The light was built in 1910 and contains a fog signal and keeper's quarters, which were occupied until 1976 when the light was automated. The base is 42 feet in diameter and tapers to 20 feet just below the gallery. The nine "decks" within are connected by a spiral staircase and are described on the site Seeing the Light:

The first deck mechanical room housed the oil engine powered fog signal, heating plant, and storage for the station's powerboat. The second deck housed a tool room, bathroom and food storage area. A kitchen, living room and one bedroom made up the third deck, with two more bedrooms and a toilet located on the fourth. A living area and another bedroom were found on the fifth deck, and the sixth and seventh contained a single open room on each. The service room made up the eighth level, and the watchroom topped the living quarters on the ninth. With its multiple windows on all sides of the tower, duty at White shoal was surprisingly comfortable during the summer, since there was always good cross ventilation. In the Spring and early winter, the oil engines furnished steam heat to radiators located on all floors, keeping the temperature comfortable year-round.

Place your bid!

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Southwest Ledge Lighthouse

Southwest Ledge Lighthouse on a rocky island

Versageek / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

4. Southwest Ledge Lighthouse: New Haven, Connecticut Built in 1877, the Southwest Ledge Lighthouse is a three story cast Iron square structure resting upon a cylindrical tower. Bonus points for its unique Second Empire style 2-story mansard roof, designed by the former Engineer-Secretary of the Lighthouse Board, Major George H. Elliot. The current bid is $30,000, but interested parties should note that this lighthouse is accessible only by boat and will remain an "active aid to navigation after the sale to the high bidder." (Which kind of makes it all the more quirky and wonderful.)

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North Manitou Shoal Light

North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse surrounded by water

United States Coast Guard / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

5. North Manitou Shoal Light: Lake Michigan So maybe North Manitou Shoal Light looks a bit imposing, but with the right touch it could be rather regal looking. Built in 1935, this property is located southeast of North Manitou Island, in Leland Township, Michigan. It is described as a white square steel superstructure situated atop a concrete crib. The 2-story square, steel building contains the former living quarters, which includes a watch room, kitchen area, living room and four bedrooms. The tower is 63 feet tall. Guessing a steel and concrete structure in Lake Michigan is going to be a bit chilly in the winter, but summer would surely be great.

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Milwaukee Pierhead Light

Milwaukee Pierhead Light

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Milwaukee Pierhead Light, Milwaukee, Wisconsin Need a pied-à-terre in downtown Milwaukee? Milwaukee Pierhead Light was first built in 1872 (and rebuilt a few decades later). It is on a short pier at the end of East Erie Street; there is little information available on living quarters, if there even are any, but the lantern room alone looks pretty inviting.