The U.S. is giving away a bunch of free lighthouses – with a catch

A few of the lighthouses that will be offered for free in the U.S. AP /

If you’ve ever dreamed of running away to live in a decommissioned lighthouse, consider this a sign.

Ten of the most picturesque lighthouses that dot the U.S.’s eastern coastline are being given away at no cost or sold at auction by the federal government.

However, like most things, there’s a catch – and it’s a pretty big (and costly) one.

The General Services Administration (GSA) is inviting federal, state, and local agencies, nonprofit organizations, educational and community development agencies, or groups devoted to parks, recreation, culture, or historic preservation to apply to take over any of six historic lighthouses and their outbuildings available free of charge.

However, anyone who assumes the role of lighthouse keeper for these storied buildings will be on the hook to pay for the upkeep and maintain them in keeping with federal and local requirements.

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They’ll also have to be made publicly available for educational, recreational or cultural purposes.

It’s not the first time the GSA has dabbled in offloading its crop of historic beacons. The United States Coast Guard has slowly been eliminating lighthouses from government inventory for years, even since the development of GPS technology has rendered them largely obsolete.

However, despite no longer being essential in protecting mariners from peril, lighthouses remain fascinating and romantic buildings that capture the interest of people all over the world.

“People really appreciate the heroic role of the solitary lighthouse keeper,” John Kelly of the GSA’s office of real property disposition told The Associated Press, explaining their allure. “They were really the instruments to provide safe passage into some of these perilous harbours, which afforded communities great opportunities for commerce, and they’re often located in prominent locations that offer breathtaking views.”

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The 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 US$10 million.

As a Canadian, if you’d rather not relocate across the border to live out your lighthouse-keeper fantasy, you’ll be a bit more hard-pressed to find one for sale. Although Canada is home to more than 750 lighthouses, mostly in Maritime provinces, they only hit the market very occasionally.

The lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press

In 2008, the Canadian government issued the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act to encourage conservation of the buildings. Some communities have taken action to have their lighthouses declared heritage sites and many of the decommissioned buildings are maintained as tourist properties that house museums and gift shops. Others have been turned into private residences or hotels.

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But if you are absolutely set on getting your hands on a lighthouse, here are the six lighthouses being given away on U.S. soil this year:

Plymouth/Gurnet Light in Massachusetts

Plymouth Light Station, with an octagonal wooden structure dates to 1842, stands near Cape Cod Bay and Plymouth Bay, April 5, 2023, in Plymouth, Mas
Plymouth Light Station, with an octagonal wooden structure, dates to 1842 and stands near Cape Cod Bay and Plymouth Bay. April 5, 2023, in Plymouth, Mass. Paul Hughes / General Services Administration via AP

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.

Warwick Neck Light, in Warwick, Rhode Island

Warwick Neck Light, which dates to 1827 and was once an important navigation tool for mariners making their way to Providence, R.I., stands near Narragansett Bay. April 12, 2023, in Warwick, R.I. Barbara Salfity / General Services Administration via AP

The 51-foot (15.5-metre) tall lighthouse that dates to 1827 was an important navigation tool for mariners making their way to Providence.

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Lynde Point Lighthouse in Old Saybrook, Connecticut

The Lynde Point Lighthouse
William J. Sampson via

Lynde Point Lighthouse was designed to be a leading light for ships coming through Long Island Sound but was not tall enough to be seen effectively by ships and was the subject of much criticism by local sailors.

Nobska Lighthouse in Falmouth, Massachusetts

Nobska Lighthouse
Courtesy of

Nobska Point Light (or Nobsque Point Light, as it was known in its early days) was built in 1828 for US$2,949.30.

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Little Mark Island and Monument in Harpswell, Maine

Little Mark Island and Monument stands between Broad Sound and Casco Bay, May 11, 2023, off the coast off Harpswell, Maine.
Barbara Salfity/General Services Administration via AP

The Little Mark Island Monument is a stone pyramid, 50 feet in height (15.2 metres). It was built as a day beacon, but a light was added at the top in 1927. The light is reached by a ladder on the south face.

Erie Harbor North Pier Lighthouse in Pennsylvania

North Pier Lighthouse
Courtesy of

The white tower with its distinctive black band is mounted on the outer end of the pier that forms the entrance to Presque Isle Bay and Erie Harbor. It has been guiding mariners since 1857.

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