Do you have what it takes to buy a fixer-upper…lighthouse? The federal government seems to be having a fire sale on seaworthy structures, and six intrepid bargain-hunters can scoop them up this summer for a (fisherman’s) song — with auction prices starting at just $10,000. (No, this is not a whale’s tale.)
The historic Chesapeake Bay lighthouse above, just two miles from the Baltimore shores, was the first one to grab our attention — and it turns out the Feds are selling off five more lighthouses on Michigan’s Great Lakes.
As Patch Detroit reports, GPS and other tech-enabled navigational apparatus that guide modern seafarers — warning them of dangers such as rocks, reefs, shoals, and other water hazards near rivers, lake and ocean ports — have now made many historic lighthouses obsolete, leading the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies to decommission and part with the maritime properties…for a (fisherman’s) song. The Feds are also auctioning off several former USCG housing properties for land-lubbers, as well.
Hosted by the U.S. General Services Administration, the auctions opened on July 18th, and as of press time bids ranged between $10,000 and $15,000 for each beaconing, seaworthy property. Bidding will continue this month and through the fall, with various end dates: until August 15th for the (currently) most expensive property — Minneapolis Shoal Light on the Great Lakes Public Trust bottomlands in Lake Michigan — and until September 15th for the Craighill Lower Range Front Light Station off North Point State Park in Chesapeake Bay, with dates of “TBD” for each of the other four lighthouses.
Just to bid on each property, would-be buyers will need to put down deposits of between $5,000 and $10,000, and in most cases the federal government retains ownership of the “land” under and surrounding each property, which will make renovations, restorations, or redevelopment of the “as-is” properties a bit tricky to say the least — maybe best left to the pros, or at least to the really determined maritime lovers with loads of time on their hands and an affinity for paperwork/the bureaucratic process.
Future owners will also need to channel the vision of Wes Anderson in Moonrise Kingdom/The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the fixer-upper passion of Chip Gaines on Demo Day, and the Viking-esque bravery of the Deadliest Catch crew just to get these babies back to their original glory (and up to code), not to mention layer on the modern amenities and design required to make them attractive getaway spots for civilians.
But for all the dreamers and the doers and the daughters/sons of Neptune out there, here are the details on all six seafaring properties currently up for sale:
Minneapolis Shoal Light
Sitting pretty like a midcentury child’s toy rocket ship on a square slab of concrete in the middle of Lake Michigan’s bottomlands, the Minneapolis Shoal Light is a towering white lighthouse banded by red with a black-capped lantern room. According to LighthouseFriends.com, the site on which it was built in 1930 — a shoal in Escanaba, Michigan owned by the Great Lakes Public Trust/the State of Michigan — was chosen after a wooden steamship ran aground there in June of 1898, and it has a long and storied history of withstanding a whale’s tale of weather since then. Including once being surrounded by 45 feet of ice piled up past the keeper’s quarters windows in April of 1948, according to former lighthouse keeper Aaron Jessen. Bids are only being taken until 2 p.m. CST on August 15th, 2017. The highest bid as of press time was $15,000.
Craighill Channel Lower Range Front Light Station
Two miles off the coast of Baltimore, and just offshore of North Point State Park in the Chesapeake Bay, this historic lighthouse was first lit in 1873 — making it 144 years old — and is the first caisson-style light station ever built in the US, according to ChesapeakeLights.com. It’s a ruddy red, cylindrical lighthouse with 1.5 stories of keeper’s quarters (including original wood floors), with a cast iron caisson resting on driven wood piles, and a perimeter gallery deck featuring all the Chesapeake Bay views you could ever dream.
Topping it all off, literally, is the cast iron lantern room that sits approximately 25 feet above the surface of the water. It doesn’t have an address — it just goes by the longitude 39.188614, latitude -76.394399, according to the Baltimore Sun. Bids are only being taken until 2 p.m. CST on September 15th, 2017. The highest bid as of press time was $15,000.
Lansing Shoal Light
Built in 1928, the Lansing Shoal Lighthouse sits 11 miles offshore to the north of Beaver Island in Naubinaway, Michigan (in Mackinac County) along the Western Straits of Mackinac in Lake Michigan — and has a long and storied past, including $1.9M in repairs in 1993 when it took a direct hit from a steamer ship in some serious fog, and other dramatic, made-for-the-movies incidents.
The 69-foot-high square masonry lighthouse sits on a square concrete basement, featuring four floors and approximately 2,000 square feet. Though the first floor is damaged and unsafe for walking, this is the lighthouse that probably has the most potential as an actual, livable renovation project — despite asbestos & lead based paint definitely being present. The highest bid as of press time was $15,000, and bids are being taken until further notice (TBD). Read more about the fascinating Lansing Shoal Light history on Detroit Patch.
Fourteen Foot Shoal Light
The Fourteen Foot Shoal Light is an historic offshore lighthouse on Lake Huron near Cheboygan, Michigan, that went into service in 1930 and was originally designed to be radio controlled from Poe Reef Lighthouse (below). It’s probably the most “house-like” of all the lighthouses, which is ironic since a single lighthouse keeper only lived at the station for its first five years of operation. The highest bid as of press time was $15,000, with bids being taken until further notice (TBD).
(Image credit: U.S. General Services Administration)
Poe Reef Lighthouse
Located six miles east of Cheboygan, Michigan in Lake Huron, at the east end of South Channel between Bois Blanc Island and the mainland of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, the Poe Reef lighthouse “was an important beacon for mariners trying to make it through the fog,” according to LighthouseFriends.com. (whose galleries include some really neat archival photos of the lighthouse being built). In 1929, it became the first in the US to be equipped with synchronized radio beacons and fog signals. Featuring the most striking exterior and interior architectural details of all the lighthouses, it’s a black-and-white banded, 71-foot tall square tower with a red-capped lantern room sitting on a wide concrete crib (aka decks for days).
From the photos it looks like the lighthouse retains some charming original pre-war cube block glass and red brick features. The highest bid as of press time was $10,000, with bids being taken until further notice (TBD).
Detroit River Light
According to LighthouseFriends.com, before the Detroit River Lighthouse was installed in 1873, “many vessels, especially in heavy weather, turning too soon, came to grief on Bar Point Shoal.” Located two miles east of the Pointe Mouillee State Game Area, just south of where the Detroit River where it meets Lake Erie, it was deemed unneeded by the US Coast Guard in 2015. The lighthouse is a classic 55-foot tall white tower with black banded perimeter gallery and black lantern tower sitting on a hexagonal concrete brick crib. Part of the building extends from the back of the lighthouse in a delightful white barn shape, like a little bait shop on a pier, and the curved interiors of the keeper’s quarters pose some interesting challenges (not to mention the condition — it’s in ruins). The highest bid as of press time was $10,000, with bids being taken until further notice (TBD). Read more on Detroit Patch.
Interested buyers and preservationists can find the full bidding details for all six lighthouses under the real estate tab on the U.S. General Services Administration’s auction website, GSAAuctions.gov.