Historic lighthouses come with high costs In this photo taken Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, Marian Gladieux, of Oregon, Ohio, looks out the tower of the North Point Lighthouse in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)
Historic lighthouses come with high costs
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When Lou Schillinger and his volunteer cadre began restoring an 1890s lighthouse more than 2 miles off the Michigan shore in Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay, they first needed to remove 30 years' accumulation of gull and pigeon feces. The poop's depth measured in feet rather than inches.
 
That was in the mid-1980s, when he reached an agreement with the Coast Guard to prevent the Port Austin Reef Lighthouse - his "Castle in the Lake" - from being dismantled and lost forever.
 
"That first summer, my dad and I ran out there with a 14-foot rowboat and a 20-foot ladder because there was no access ladder and we just began shoveling manure," said Schillinger, 66. He is president of the Port Austin Reef Light Association, a nonprofit group that in 2013 took title of the property from the federal government. No keeper had lived in the brick building with its five-floor tower since 1952. The roof was gone.
 
"We shoveled diligently," Schillinger said. "I'd get friends out there, they would come out and volunteer and they'd show up for one day and they would never come back again because it was such a miserable job."
 
About 120 lighthouses no longer critical to the Coast Guard in 22 states and Puerto Rico have been acquired at no cost by government entities and nonprofits. Some were sold to private individuals. Many are eager to preserve the landmarks and maybe tap into their tourism potential since they became available under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Upkeep was too expensive and their usefulness was in decline with the advent of GPS.
 
Winning bids have ranged from $10,000 for the Cleveland East Pierhead Light in Ohio to $934,000 for the Graves Light in Boston Harbor. More are auctioned every year. But buyers beware: Years of neglect, vandalism, limited access and hammering by the elements often make for labor-intensive money pits that are for neither the weak of heart nor stomach.
 
"People who are into this . . . (need) a conviction that these buildings and the history they represent are worth saving," said Terry Pepper, 68. Pepper is executive director of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association.
 
Port Austin Light was built on a shallow reef. It's accessible only by boat when winds are light. Otherwise, waves are too choppy to dock and disembark. Pepper's association overcame similar access issues when it renovated a lighthouse on the 160-acre St. Helena Island. The island is seven miles west of the Mackinac Bridge. It took about 20 years and $1.5 million to finish the job. That was in 2005.
 
Nobody had lived in the 1870s lighthouse since 1922. It had become a destination for partiers, scrappers and vandals. Pepper's association acquired the lighthouse before the 2000 act. It also is restoring the Cheboygan River Front Range Light. It is in Michigan.
 
"The roof had huge holes in it," Pepper said. "Somebody had lit a fire on the floor in one of the bedrooms on the second floor. Every single window in the lighthouse was gone. All the doors on the inside of the brick lighthouse were gone. Railings on the stairs were gone and the plaster inside the lighthouse had been kicked down."
 
Pepper estimates the group has spent $1.5 million and "untold thousands of hours of volunteer labor" restoring the St. Helena property. It must meet state and federal standards for historic preservation.
 
"We who are in this business, with this passion, have to be asking for money all the time," Pepper said. The money comes through grants, donations, selling memorabilia or offering Great Lakes lighthouse cruises.
 
Pepper is often contacted by prospective buyers because of his knowledge of lighthouses, particularly those in Michigan. The state has 129 lighthouses. That is the most in the U.S.
 
"I will tell people if you end up spending $100,000 to get that lighthouse, that's a lot of money," Pepper said. "But $100,000 is the tip of the iceberg."
 
Onshore lighthouses are no bargain, either.
 
A volunteer group spent about a decade and nearly $1.9 million to acquire and renovate North Point Lighthouse in Milwaukee. It opened to the public in 2007. Since then, it has attracted more than 80,000 tourists. It has cost more than $1.1 million to run it. The money comes from entrance fees and events, donations, fundraising and grants.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does Michigan have so many lighthouses?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (4)
  • jessicas-pel
    10/25/2016 - 09:20 a.m.

    Michigan has a lot of light houses because they have a lot of shores that needs light houses to show the boats where to go.

  • sawyerg-sto
    11/03/2016 - 11:40 a.m.

    Pepper is often contacted by prospective buyers because of his knowledge of lighthouses, particularly those in Michigan.

  • bkyle-dav
    11/03/2016 - 10:37 p.m.

    In response to "Historic lighthouses come with high costs," I agree that lighthouses cost lots and lots of money. One reason I agree is that some lighthouses our very old and very historic in some places and it woud be hard to keep it in good shape. Another reason is that over the years the lighthouses have gone through different things, like destruction from tornadoes or other natural disasters, vandalism, and tons of feces on the lighthouse. Terry Pepper, an executive director of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, says in the article, "People who are into this . . . (need) a conviction that these buildings and the history they represent are worth saving." I believe people like them because they are really old and broken down, and they might have a pretty interesting story. A third reason I agree is that, according to Pepper, preservation of lighthouses must meet state and federal standards for historic preservation, which costs a lot of money. Even though it can be expensive, I think it is worth it to restore and preserve history.

  • bjoseph-dav
    11/17/2016 - 09:40 p.m.

    In response to " Historic light houses come with high costs," I disagree that they should should rebuild the light house in Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay, . One reason why I disagree that they should not rebuild the light house because it is very costly. Evidence for this is in paragraph 13, in which it says. ""I will tell people if you end up spending $100,000 to get that lighthouse, that's a lot of money," Pepper said. "But $100,000 is the tip of the iceberg." . Another reason that disagree that they should not build the the light house is because it is a very long process. In paragraph 8 it proves this by saying. It took about 20 years and $1.5 million to finish the job. A third reason why I do not think they should rebuild the lighthouse is because it is not sanitary. "pigeon feces. The poop's depth measured in feet rather than inches".
    Even though I think it is not a good idea to rebuild this lighthouse, I think
    It is a place of memorabilia.

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