Want to be a Lighthouse Keeper?

On May 24, 2012 · Comments Off on Want to be a Lighthouse Keeper?

Lighthouse Keeper is one of those occupations similar to lamp lighter, elevator operator, stenographer and ice delivery person that probably doesn’t offer many career opportunities in the modern world.

It takes a special personality to endure days and weeks of loneliness and isolation. That’s especially true of those stuck on lighthouses perched on rocky crags far removed from the outside world. I’m not sure there are many job duties remaining either. The essential elements have all been replaced by technology and most stations are now completely automated.

I wouldn’t want to be a lighthouse keeper on a permanent basis even if the job still existed. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t mind sitting in a lighthouse for a long-weekend every few months to let myself unwind with some quiet, contemplative time. Maybe that’s why I’ve always had such a fascination with lighthouses. Can that dream ever come true?

It’s actually possible for a private citizen to purchase a lighthouse in the United States although its a rather convoluted process. Get ready, because the Government is about to issue Notices of Availability for the next set of lighthouses to be released from the federal inventory in case you’d like a very secluded hideaway.

Ontonagon Lighthouse
Ontonagon West Pierhead Light, Ontonagon, Michigan
SOURCE: Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The process is governed by the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.

NHLPA recognizes the cultural, recreational, and educational value associated with historic light station properties by allowing these to be transferred at no cost to federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofit corporations, educational agencies, and community development organizations. These entities must… be financially able to maintain the historic light station… must make the station available for education, park, recreation, cultural or historic preservation purposes for the general public…

What about private citizens? "Organizations interested in acquiring one of the lighthouses will have 60 days to submit a letter expressing interest in the property and complete a rigorous application process. If no suitable steward is identified, the lighthouses are then auctioned to the general public."

Thus, if the government can’t find a suitable government, nonprofit, educational or community development organization to step-up and become a lighthouse steward, then private citizens will be offered the same opportunity. Auctions take place on the Internet at realestatesales.gov. There are a number of lighthouses listed for sale right now! — that’s assuming you’re reading this message in some proximity to the date I posted this (May 24, 2012) and not at some date in the distant future.

The government has conveyed 84 lighthouses from its inventory through this program since its inception. The new list will add a dozen more in 2012.


  • Ontonagon West Pierhead Light
  • Manistique Light
  • Stannard Rock Light
  • Fourteen Foot Shoal Light

    Liston Rear Range Lighthouse
    Liston Rear Range Light, Delaware River, Delaware
    SOURCE: Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.


    • Liston Rear Range Light


    • American Shoal Light


    • Ashland Light

    View Larger Map
    Butler Flats Light, New Bedford, Massachusetts


    • Butler Flats Light
    • Graves Light
    • Edgartown Light

    View Larger Map
    Edgartown Light, Edgartown, Massachusetts


    • Halfway Rock Light
    • Boon Island Light

    Let’s not get our hopes up too high. Some of these will be taken quickly. The Edgartown Light, for example is on Martha’s Vineyard. Who wouldn’t love an opportunity to own a part of Martha’s Vineyard? It’s also undergone an extensive renovation and is currently maintained by the the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society. I think it’s probably fairly safe to assume that they’ll want to take permanent stewardship. They’re already doing that on a temporary basis.

    More than likely it’s the lighthouses that are horribly ramshackled and incredibly remote that will pass through the gauntlet and make it to public auction.

    Someday, maybe someday I’ll own a lighthouse. I can hold out hope.

    Totally Unrelated

    There’s an interesting article in the Washington Post today on a hobby familiar to many of us: county counting. The person who is featured in the article, Reid Williamson, is also an occasional 12MC reader so that’s pretty cool too.

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