Centuries ago, before humankind relies on GPS or other digitally advanced navigation devices, mariners and seamen depended on signals of lighthouses to find their way to the shores safely.
Ever since we’ve developed the necessary technology to sail the seas or great lakes, the shore’s sentinels have now existed without any practical use, essentially just standing there to give a more picturesque view of the sea or clifftops, or a quaint reminder of a time gone by.
Since 2002, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has been transferring ownership of lighthouses to groups that are committed to preserving them, as they’re “no longer critical to the U.S. Coast Guard’s mission needs.”
Nonetheless, these pretty towers still fascinate us. Other than their beauty, there are stories that surround them—some are interesting, some are horror-related—which add all the more allure to them.
So, despite not being functional anymore, these lighthouses are still here, and here are some of them which we can visit.
Split Rock Lighthouse, Minnesota
On a cliff that overlooks the mighty Lake Superior, the Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the westernmost of the Great Lakes’ beacons. Split Rock Lighthouse was built after the Mataafa storm of 1905, which caused many shipwrecks on Lake Superior.
People like visiting this landmark mainly because of its distinctive scenery that characterizes this remote part of the Lake Superior shoreline. Aside from touring the lighthouse itself and marveling at the view around it, visitors can also hike and bike trails—which will also give them amazing views especially during autumn.
Other than that, tourists can also camp by the light house, as there are 46 drive-in campsites to spend the night. Think about this like almost travelling back in time, where you can look at the lighthouse and the Lake Superior in the evening.
Split Rock Lighthouse opens daily from 10 AM to 6 PM. Expect to pay entrances fees when you get there. The charges are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, active military, veterans, and college students, $6 for children between five and 17, and free for kids below four years and Minnesota Historical Society members.
Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon
This lighthouse, first shone its light in 1894, has become magnetic due to its remoteness. Sitting on a cliff 1000 ft above sea level in coastal Oregon, Heceta Head Lighthouse is open to visitors all year round; provided the weather is good.
Although the top floors are closed to the general public, you can take in the views from the seven miles of trails that cross the area.
But if you want to spend extra money and more days or nights, take a look at its assistant lightkeeper’s house, which is one of the few remaining in the Pacific Ocean. Just like the towers, keepers are now obsolete, and the house has been transformed into a bed-and-breakfast-style inn.
It’s now entirely possible to slightly put yourself in the lightkeeper’s shoes and see the now-automated light beam shining out at nighttime. If you’re in luck, you can also spot sea lions and whales are visible from the high vantage point as well as nesting seabirds along the cliffs.
The Palagruza Lighthouse, Croatia
By itself, Croatia is gorgeous; just imagine the beguiling cliffsides, the breathtaking Dalmatian Coast alone. Well, you can add more charm to your already charming Croatia experience by going to the architecturally enticing lighthouses along the Adriatic Coast, one of which is The Palagruza Lighthouse.
It is one of the most beautiful lighthouses situated in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. Apart from its sheer beauty, this lighthouse is also a historic landmark of Pelagosa Island.
And similar to Heceta Lighthouse, visitors can rent it out, enabling them to have the lighthouse all by themselves for often surprisingly reasonable nightly and weekly rates. If you’d like, you can also listen to the stories and legends from its keeper who really functions more as a tour guide.
Louisbourg Lighthouse, Canada
Along the south shore of Nova Scotia, lighthouses sit on the coast amidst their scenic surroundings and wave-crashing bays. Around here, vacationers can have the “Lighthouse Route” tour which offers views and stops at over 20 lighthouses, but Louisbourg Lighthouse is among the many stunning lighthouses you can explore.
Here, you can walk along the quiet country road, fishers’ row wooden dories still haul lumber boxes, and fishers’ row wooden dories still haul lumber out to sea. Truly a place to remind yourself of our planet’s beauty and how we should preserve it.
Portland Head Light, Maine
One of the oldest landmarks of its kind in the US and the oldest lighthouse in Maine, Portland Head Light was created by a lamp that burned whale oil. During the Civil War, the light was raised several feet.
Being more than 200 years old, this tower has received some weather damage and been altered over the years, but there’s no worry about altering the original structure. In modern times, tourists can take photographs of this lighthouse, and they should check out Ram Island Light at the entrance to Portland Harbor before leaving.
Now, it’s possible to visit other lighthouses when you go to Cape Elizabeth. Two Lights State Park gives visitors two lighthouses from a park. Yes, while the lighthouses are unfortunately located on a private property, the park offers excellent views of them.
Then, there’s also Spring Point Ledge Light that’s located next to Portland Harbor Museum. Here, tourists can learn more about Portland’s rich history, and unlike Two Lights State Park, visitors can walk out on the granite breakwater to admire the structure up-close.
When lighthouses are obsolete
As mentioned above, the GSA has started giving away lighthouses. This year, it will give away six of the historic beacons, including the Warwick Neck Light, at no cost. Four more will be sold via public auction.
The goal of the transfers is to preserve the historic buildings, even when they’re not used nor needed any longer.
Can these historical properties be yours? Possibly. But for now, the lighthouses aren’t available to just anyone.
Also, remember that old structures have challenging upkeep. Two of the structures up for auction, the Penfield Reef Lighthouse in Fairfield, Connecticut, and the Stratford Shoal Light in the middle of the Long Island Sound, are accessible only by boat.
Robin Carnahan, administrator of the GSA, said, “They’re such unusual reflections of our history that it takes a certain kind of person who wants to be a part of that.”
The GSA offers the lighthouses at no cost to federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofits, educational agencies and community development organizations. Several of the lighthouses this year are already under the care of nonprofits.
To be eligible, interested buyers must be able to maintain the historic property and allow the public to access it. Per the GSA, there have now been more than 80 lighthouses which have found a new owner—and stable future.
When there’s no owner found from the GSA’s prioritized categories, it’ll then offer the structures for sale to the public via auction. The GSA has auctioned 70 lighthouses to date, in sales ranging from $10,000 to over $900,000.
Though I must say, as much as interesting it sounds to own a lighthouse, I’d much rather visiting all of them. How about you?