CLEVELAND, Ohio – The West Pierhead Light in Cleveland Harbor is one of four lighthouses the federal government hopes to sell at auction and one of 10 it is looking to dispose of this year.
The move is part of a program run by the General Services Administration that aims to preserve the lighthouses. Properties are given away to qualifying entities or sold at auction to the public.
Most of the lighthouses are more than a century old.
The development of modern technology, including GPS, means lighthouses are no longer essential for navigation, John Kelly of the GSA’s office of real property disposition told the Associated Press. The Coast Guard often maintains aids to navigation at or near lighthouses, but these 10 structures are often no longer mission critical.
Yet the public remains fascinated by the beacons, which are popular tourist attractions and the subject of countless photographers and artists, Kelly said.
“People really appreciate the heroic role of the solitary lighthouse keeper,” he said, explaining their allure. “They were really the instruments to provide safe passage into some of these perilous harbors which afforded communities great opportunities for commerce, and they’re often located in prominent locations that offer breathtaking views.”
This is not the first time the Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Light has been up for grabs. In 2021 GSA was looking to give it away to a federal, state or local government agency, a nonprofit, educational organization or other entity willing to maintain and preserve it.
GSA spokesman Paul Hughes said then that there was interest in the lighthouse, but he did not know how many parties were in the mix. He noted then that if no suitable steward was found, the light would be available to the public via auction.
The Cleveland lighthouse stands 50 feet tall. The steel tower dates from 1911. While it is only accessible by boat, it has spectacular views of the city skyline.
The auction is slated to begin June 30, GSA said. More information is available online through GSA.
The other three lighthouses up for auction 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.
The six offered for free to a qualifying party willing to maintain and preserve them and make them publicly available for educational, recreational or cultural purposes, include the 34-foot-tall Plymouth/Gurnet Light in Massachusetts. The octagonal wooden structure dates to 1842, although a lighthouse has been at the site since 1768. A previous beacon at the site was staffed by America’s first female lighthouse keeper.
The Warwick Neck Light, in Warwick, Rhode Island, is a 51-foot tall structure that dates to 1827, and was an important navigation tool for mariners making their way to Providence, Kelly told AP. That is his favorite of the group.
The other four being offered at no cost 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.
GSA has been transferring ownership of lighthouses since Congress passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2000. About 150 lighthouses have been transferred, 80 or so given away and another 70 auctioned, raising more than $10 million.
Some are already maintained by nonprofits and those agencies will have the opportunity to apply to continue doing do, Kelly said.
Some have been converted into private residences by people who want a unique living situation, Kelly said.
“They all have their own interesting history,” Kelly said.