For sale: historic lighthouses of the Great Lakes

Aug 12, 2016

The North Manitou Shoal Light in Lake Michigan is being auctioned off by the federal government.
Credit Mark Breederland, Michigan Sea Grant

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to own your own lighthouse, there’s one for sale in the Manitou Passage. The federal government is auctioning off the 81-year-old North Manitou Shoal Light, with an opening bid of $10,000.

The auction is part of an effort to restore and maintain Michigan’s historic lighthouses. But restoring a lighthouse might be more difficult than you think.

When the DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society set out 20 years ago to restore a lighthouse near Drummond Island, they ran into a lot of expense and government red tape.

David Bardsley was part of the restoration effort at the DeTour Reef Light and he runs its light-keeper program.

He says the first step in restoring a lighthouse is to apply to buy it. Then you’ll be dealing with the State of Michigan, which owns the lake bottom beneath your lighthouse.

“That ended up being a three-year legal battle with the state,” says Bardsley.

There are also many regulations coming from the federal Departments of the Interior and Transportation, says Bardsley, as well as the Michigan Historic Preservation Office.

If you can navigate through all the bureaucracy – and raise the money for restoration – you’ll have done your part to preserve a bit of Michigan history.

“They love it,” says Bardsley of his volunteer light-keepers. “We allow children out there, and the kids love it.”