The National Lighthouse Preservation Act allows members of the public to purchase a lighthouse.
The Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse purchased by Sheila Consaul in 2011 was first lit in 1925.
“I made it clear that I’m just the steward of this lighthouse,” Consaul told Insider.
In 2011, Sheila Consaul purchased a lighthouse as part of a government scheme allowing people to buy government-owned lighthouses. She was looking for a summer house and loved restoring historic properties, she told Insider.
When not staying in the lighthouse in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, Consaul lives outside of Washington, DC. She told Insider that it was through her DC channels she found out the Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse had gone up for auction.
The National Lighthouse Preservation Act was passed in 2000 and offers members of the public the chance to purchase a lighthouse, some working, some not. Even the active lighthouses are now automated, including Consaul’s, which is run on solar power, she told Insider.
Consaul has been renovating the lighthouse since 2011. “The coastguards maintained the light the entire time, but they did not maintain the building very well. So when I got it, it was in really bad shape,” she added.
The lighthouse was originally heated by a mysteriously missing coal heater, so it can now only be opened during the summer months between May and October, Consaul said. The lighthouse was first lit in 1925, and so the utilities are as they would have been in the 1920s.
Renovating a historical building does come with some perks, like hidden treasure. “We found a couple of interesting things that had just been thrown into the attic. One was a crate that shipped the original refrigerator into the lighthouse in the 1940s,” Consaul told Insider.
At the same time, renovating a historical building also has some major setbacks. Consaul told Insider there were no electricals connected to the house when she bought it, as well as no modern plumbing systems.
That did not deter Consaul’s drive to renovate the lighthouse to livable conditions. She told Insider that she gets her power through a generator, though she has tried sustainable sources of energy like a solar wind combination system.
“I’m not allowed to take water from the lake, so I have to collect rainwater from the roof. That’s where I get water for showers and dishwashing. I do have composting toilets. So I don’t have any sewage that I have to dispose of,” Consaul added.
But with adding new, modern appliances came another set of problems. “When it came to the really big stuff, like appliances, granite countertops, water treatment equipment, that all had to come by barge,” she told Insider, adding that the barge costs $2,500 a day.
Consaul estimates that around $300,000 has been spent on the project so far.
Consaul said that although she can park her car containing lighter supplies in the state park parking lot, it’s around a half-mile walk to the lighthouse.
“Everything you can imagine has to be hand carried out, back and forth,” Consaul told Insider. “It’s a 40-minute walk each way.”
However, it was difficult to find people as invested as her in the project. “I went through a lot of tradespeople who might come out once to look at the job, and then I’d never hear from them again,” she said. “It took me a lot of time to find the right people who were willing to take on the challenge.”
Consaul told Insider the property has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and a utility room.
Before being opened up to the public, Consaul told Insider that the government-owned lighthouses are first offered to non-profits or charities. “After a lot of paperwork explaining how they’re going to take care of it, repair it, renovate it, and make it accessible to the public, the government will award the lighthouse to that group,” she said.
The GSA (General Services Administration) is “the federal government’s real estate agency, for lack of a better description,” Consaul told Insider. “They come up with a list, and it’s usually 10 to 15 a year, of lighthouses that they want to dispose of.”
In Fairport Harbor where Consaul’s lighthouse is located, there’s another lighthouse that’s around 100 years older, now called the Fairport Harbor Marine Museum. It was scheduled to be torn down, and the community of Fairport took a stand, forming a historical society to save this beacon of their community, Consaul said.
“When mine came up for auction, the town of Fairport Harbor had kind of already been through this and really didn’t have the wherewithal to do it again,” Consaul told Insider.
So, with no community groups to claim the property, it went to public auction in 2009. Consaul bid on the lighthouse on three occasions and took possession in November 2011, she told Insider.
Locals were getting excited that this symbol of their community was getting a new lease of life. “Many members of the community have helped along with the renovations by painting, removing trash, carrying items in, cleaning, and lots of other tasks,” Consaul said.
Since she purchased the lighthouse, she has had an annual open house on the anniversary of when the lighthouse was first lit.
She told Insider: “I now get hundreds of people who come through. Most of the people in the community have just looked at it their whole lives and never seen the inside. This year, we had about 800 people come through one afternoon.”
“It’s very much a symbol, an icon of the community,” Consaul said. “I made it clear that I’m just the steward of this lighthouse.”
Read the original article on Insider