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Purchasing from a private owner

Prior to 2000, lighthouses being disposed-of by the Coast Guard were first turned over to the General Services Administration (GSA) to be offered to government agencies. In the event that no Government agency showed any interest, the lighthouse was sold to the highest public bidder.


A number of Great Lakes lighthouses passed into private hands as a result of this process, and occasionally they are sold on the open market by their current owners.


Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive listing of such lighthouse offerings. As such, your best bet is likely to contact your local real estate agent and ask them to conduct searches of the various listing agencies throughout your area of interest. You could also conduct frequent Internet searches for appropriate keywords.

Direct transfer from the Federal Government

With the passage if the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act (NHLPA) in 2000, the law governing the disposal of historic lighthouses was modified to offer ownership to all of the following entities: Federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofit corporations, educational agencies, and community development organizations.


The process basically unfolds as follows:


The Federal Government advertises lighthouses which are being disposed of through official Notices of Availability (NOA) which it advertises through news releases, ads in various publications relating to maritime interests, and on a number of websites.


Any entity having an interest in owning a lighthouse through this process must complete an application, and subsequently submit a comprehensive use plan by set dates in which they agree to comply with all conditions set forth in the NHLPA, and prove their financial ability to maintain the historic light station.


Part of the NHLPA requirement is that the eligible entity to which the historic light station is conveyed must make the station available for education, park, recreation, cultural or historic preservation purposes for the general public at reasonable times and under reasonable conditions.


All applications and use plans are then reviewed jointly by the GSA and the National Park Service, with the lighthouse subsequently transferred to the successful entity. In the event that no submitted plans are viewed by NPS and GSA as being workable, negotiations for alteration to the plan may result.


In the event that no eligible entity submits an application and comprehensive use plan, or none of the use plans received are deemed workable, the lighthouse is offered for public sale through a sealed bid process, with the lighthouse thus sold to the highest bid.


Most shore-based lighthouses in the United States were sold into private hands long ago, have already been transferred, are in the transfer process, or have a long-standing steward which has been restoring their lighthouse under a long-term lease from the Coast Guard, and should rightly be a shoe-in when the Coast Guard finally decides to dispose of the property. As a result, it is highly likely that the only lighthouses which will come up for private ownership are offshore lighthouses located on islands, cribs or caissons far from shore, for which the logistics and high costs of stewardship are far beyond the financial means of local governments, historical groups or non-profit preservation societies.


You can learn more about the transfer process at the National Parks Maritime Heritage Program website. They have a page specifically dedicated to the NHLPA, which includes the actual wording of the Act itself, flow-charts of the process, listings of area contacts and a link to a listing of all active Notices of Availability. You can access this page directly at www.nps.gov/history/maritime/nhlpa/nhlpa.htm