By Mark Pratt, Associated Press
BOSTON — Ten lighthouses that have stood as sentries along America’s shores for generations, protecting sailors from danger and guiding them to safety, are being given away for free or sold at auction by the federal government.
The goal of the General Services Administration program is to preserve the properties, most of which are more than a century old.
With the development of modern technology, including GPS, lighthouses are no longer essential for navigation, said John Kelly of the GSA real estate office. And while the Coast Guard often maintains navigational aids at or near lighthouses, the structures themselves are often no longer mission-critical.
Yet the public remains captivated by the beacons, popular tourist sites and the subject of countless photographers and artists.
“People really appreciate the heroic role of the lone lighthouse keeper,” he said, explaining their appeal. “They really were the tools to provide safe passage to some of these dangerous ports that provided great trading opportunities for communities, and they are often in prominent locations with breathtaking views.”
The GSA has transferred ownership of lighthouses since Congress passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2000. About 150 lighthouses have been transferred, about 80 given away, and another 70 auctioned, raising more than $10 million.
This year, six lighthouses will be offered free of charge to federal, state or local government agencies, nonprofits, educational organizations or other entities willing to maintain and preserve them and make them publicly available for educational, recreational or cultural purposes.
They include the 34-foot (10.4-meter) tall Plymouth/Gurnet Light in Massachusetts. The octagonal wooden structure dates back to 1842, although a lighthouse has stood on the site since 1768. An earlier beacon at the site was manned by America’s first female lighthouse keeper.
Kelly’s personal favorite is Warwick Neck Light, in Warwick, Rhode Island. Dating back to 1827, the 50-foot (15.5 m) lighthouse was an important navigational aid for sailors en route to Providence.
“Warwick Neck is really in a pretty prominent location on a bluff overlooking Narragansett Bay,” he said. “That’s probably one that I’d say has a real ‘wow’ factor when you step out and look at it.”
The other lighthouses offered for free are Lynde Point Lighthouse in Old Saybrook, Connecticut; Nobska Lighthouse in Falmouth, Massachusetts; Little Mark Island and Monument in Harpswell, Maine; and Erie Harbor North Pier Lighthouse in Pennsylvania.
Some are already maintained by nonprofits, and those agencies will have the option to sign up to continue doing so, Kelly said.
If a new owner is not found, the lighthouse will be put up for competitive bidding at auction.
The four lighthouses being auctioned include Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Light, a 15.5-foot-tall steel tower built in 1911 that is accessible only by boat but offers spectacular views of the city’s 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 Keweenaw Waterway Lower Entrance Light in Chassell, Michigan.
Some of the lighthouses purchased in the past have been converted into private homes by people who want a unique living situation.
“They all have their own interesting histories,” Kelly said.