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|Lighthouses--Frequently Asked Questions|
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Lens at Block Island Southeast Light Station; this photo was downloaded from the HAER Collection at the Library of Congress.
How can I purchase a lighthouse?
Federally-owned lighthouses rarely pass into
private ownership. Generally a federal, state, or local government entity
takes jurisdiction or there is a legislative transfer to a non-profit when
a lighthouse is excessed by the Coast Guard. In 1999, one lighthouse reached
the public auction phase of the property disposal process. For more information
on public auctions, the General Services Administration (GSA) maintains
a web site for its property
The process for disposing of lighthouses was modified under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2000. This legislation places non-profit entities are on equal footing with federal agencies and other public bodies to apply for ownership of historic lighthouse properties. In the event no new acceptable steward is found, the act authorizes the sale of the property.
Lighthouses which were acquired by private individuals before
the current surplusing laws were established sometimes do come
on the market. Frequently there is a notice of these sales in
Lighthouse Digest, a monthly publication available by subscription
(1-800-758-1444). This publication as well as the Keeper's
Log, available to members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society (415-362-7255),
sometime also mention caretaking opportunities at lighthouses.
For more recent lighthouse documentation, the Historic
American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record
has documented many lighthouses. HABS/HAER drawings kept in the
collection at the Library of Congress. The Library
of Congress has been digitizing some HABS/HAER documentation.
Coast Guard Historian's Office also houses a collection of
historic lighthouse images.
Lighthouse employees are also included in the Official Register of Federal Employees for odd years from about 1840 to 1890. (There's a set in the second floor research room in the main branch of the National Archives in Washington, D.C.; the publication and may also be available at some federal depository libraries.) Lighthouse keepers became part of the Federal Civil Service in 1896.
Great Lakes Lighthouse Research, Dayton, Ohio, has compiled a five-book series listing Great Lakes lighthouse keepers and lighthouse tender crews. Email Thomas Tag for more information.
If the individual served with the U.S. Coast Guard, you may
want to contact the National Personnel Records Center (9700 Page
Avenue, Saint Louis, MO 63132). Please be advised that privacy
restrictions apply to these records.