Tallest Lighthouse in New England Auctioned Off for $78,000

Lighthouse Auction Maine
The Associated PressUndated photo from the U.S. General Services Administration of the Boon Island Light Station off York, Maine.
Why would anyone want to buy a lighthouse on a desolate, difficult-to-reach, and storm-battered island? Apparently there are many who would. More than a dozen bidders tried to purchase the historic Boon Island Light Station, the tallest lighthouse in New England, in an auction that ended Sunday.

The no-frills lighthouse and the tiny island it's set on -- six miles off the Maine coast -- went to the highest bidder for the sum of $78,000, The Associated Press reported.

According to Bob Trapani, the Executive Director of the American Lighthouse Foundation, these islands are usually bought by individuals whose primary concern is preservation. "There are occasions where some people just like to say they own a lighthouse," Trapani said, "and others are intrigued by the mystery and challenge that this type of island presents."

Boon Island, with a rich history of shipwrecks and violent storms, certainly presents a challenge. The trading vessel Increase ran aground there in 1682, as did the English ship Nottingham Galley in 1710. The entire crew of the Caroline -- shipwrecked on the island in 1846 -- were saved by the lighthouse "keeper" at that time, Nathaniel Baker.

The first wooden lighthouse tower was erected on the island in 1799 and was replaced several times with more substantial materials and to greater heights. The current tower, built of granite, stands 133 feet high. (See images from the history of the lighthouse in the slideshow below.)

Over the years "keepers" resided on the island until the Great Blizzard of 1978, when huge waves, strong gusts and blinding snow covered it. During that storm, the lighthouse keeper and guards clung to the spiral staircase inside the tower as it swayed in the wind. A helicopter eventually rescued everyone on the island during a lull in the blizzard, but the island hasn't been home to anyone since.

The other buildings on the island were all wrecked by the storm and what remained of them was finally burned to the ground in the 1980s by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Among the challenges for the new owner of the island is a ledge 14 feet above sea level, making it extremely difficult to land a boat. And often when the sea is turbulent the only safe way to get to the tiny island is by helicopter.

One could build a house there, particularly a prefabricated one that could be airlifted in parts to the island. However, according to Trapani, "The owner will have to contend with the threat of storms, which will always remain a factor at this wave-swept location. If any additional structures were approved to be built, they would have to be able to withstand the sizable seas that sweep over the ledge -- and on occasion, submerge it during big storms."

Trapani hopes that the new owner will have preservation in mind because there is much work to do in restoring the lighthouse. The ironwork throughout the structure needs some TLC, especially the spiral staircase, which has deteriorated over the years. This will be the responsibility of the new owner since the Coast Guard doesn't have the funds for this type of historical restoration. The Guard will, however, continue to be responsible for the light, still required to guide ships safely around navigational hazards in the vicinity.

The winning bidder will be identified after government officials take up to 30 days to evaluate the winning bid and finalize the purchase, Patrick Sclafani, a spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration, told the AP.

Other lighthouses are still available for those who are interested in owning one. The federal government is currently auctioning off Halfway Rock Light Station in Maine's Casco Bay. The highest of the three bids to date is $56,000. The Minots Ledge Light off Scituate, Massachusetts, is also available, though so far hasn't attracted any bids.

So for the adventurous souls who want to own a lighthouse -- there are still opportunities.

New England's Tallest Lighthouse
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Tallest Lighthouse in New England Auctioned Off for $78,000

Sheri Koones is the author of seven books on home construction, five of them on prefabricated construction. She has won two Robert Bruss Gold Book awards by the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Her latest book is Prefabulous World: Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Homes Around the Globe.
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