Advances in modern technology, including GPS, mean that lighthouses are no longer essential to navigation. But the public remains in awe of them.
BOSTON — Ten lighthouses that have stood sentinel along America’s coastline for generations, protecting mariners from danger and guiding them to safety, have been given away for free or sold at auction by the federal government.
The goal of the program, run by the General Services Administration, is to preserve the property, most of which is more than a century old.
Advances in modern technology, including GPS, mean that beacons are no longer important for navigation, said John Kelly of the GSA’s Office of Property Management. And while the Coast Guard often maintains navigational aids on or near lighthouses, the structures themselves are often no longer critical.
However, the public remains fascinated by the lighthouses, which are popular tourist attractions and the subject of countless photographers and artists.
“People really appreciate the heroic role of the lone lighthouse keeper,” he explained of their appeal. “They were really instrumental in providing safe passage to some of these dangerous harbors that gave communities great opportunities for trade, and they were often located in prominent locations with spectacular views.”
GSA has been transferring ownership of lighthouses since Congress passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2000. About 150 beacons were donated, about 80 were given away, and another 70 were auctioned off, bringing in more than $10 million.
This year, six lighthouses are being offered free of charge to federal, state or local government agencies, nonprofits, educational organizations or other entities that wish to maintain and preserve them and make them available to the public for educational, recreational and cultural purposes.
Among them is the 34-foot (10.4-meter) Plymouth/Gurnet Light in Massachusetts. The octagonal wooden structure dates from 1842, although the lighthouse has been on the site since 1768. America’s first female lighthouse keeper worked at the former lighthouse on this site.
Kelly’s personal favorite is Warwick Neck Light, in Warwick, Rhode Island. The 51-foot-tall (15.5-meter) lighthouse, which dates back to 1827, was an important navigational tool for mariners bound for Providence.
“Warwick Neck is really in a pretty prominent location on a bluff overlooking Narragansett Bay,” he said. – I’d say it’s something that, when you go out and look at it, it’s a real “wow”.
Other lighthouses offered for free are Linde Point Lighthouse in Old Saybrook, Connecticut; Nobsk Lighthouse in Falmouth, Massachusetts; Little Mark Island and Monument in Harpswell, Maine; and the Erie Harbor North Pier Lighthouse in Pennsylvania.
Some are already supported by nonprofits, and those agencies will be able to apply to continue doing so, Kelly said.
If a new owner is not found, the lighthouse is put up for competitive bidding from an auction.
The four lighthouses being auctioned include the Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Light, a 50-foot (15.5-meter) steel tower dating from 1911 that is only accessible by boat but offers spectacular views of the city skyline.
The others are Penfield Reef Lighthouse in Fairfield, Connecticut; Stratford Shoal Light in the middle of Long Island Sound between New York and Connecticut; and the Keweenaw Waterway Lower Entrance Light in Chassell, Michigan.
Some of the lighthouses purchased in the past have been converted into private residences by people who want a unique living situation.
“They all have their own interesting story,” Kelly said.