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Lighthouse FAQs

drawing of lighthouse

How can I purchase a lighthouse?

Federally-owned lighthouses rarely pass into private ownership. Generally a federal, state, or local government entity takes jurisdiction or there is a legislative transfer to a non-profit when a lighthouse is excessed by the Coast Guard. In 1999, one lighthouse reached the public auction phase of the property disposal process. For more information on public auctions, the General Services Administration (GSA) maintains a web site for its property disposal program.

The process for disposing of lighthouses was modified under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2000. This legislation places non-profit entities are on equal footing with federal agencies and other public bodies to apply for ownership of historic lighthouse properties. In the event no new acceptable steward is found, the act authorizes the sale of the property.

Lighthouses which were acquired by private individuals before the current surplusing laws were established sometimes do come on the market. Frequently there is a notice of these sales in Lighthouse Digest, a monthly publication available by subscription (1-800-758-1444). This publication as well as the Keeper's Log, available to members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society (415-362-7255), sometime also mention caretaking opportunities at lighthouses.


Where can I obtain plans for lighthouses?

Many original lighthouse drawings are part of Record Group 26 at the National Archives. Most are housed outside D.C. at the National Archives II Cartographic Division in College Park, Maryland; the address is 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001; phone: 301-713-7040. Some plans for what is now the Fifth U.S. Coast Guard District are housed in the Regional Archives in Philadelphia.

For more recent lighthouse documentation, the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record has documented many lighthouses. HABS/HAER drawings kept in the collection at the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress has been digitizing some HABS/HAER documentation.


Where can I obtain historic photos of lighthouses?

Many historic lighthouse photos are part of Record Group 26 at the National Archives. They are housed outside D.C. at the National Archives II Still Pictures Branch in College Park, Maryland; the address is 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001; phone: 301-713-6660.

The U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office also houses a collection of historic lighthouse images.


What lighthouses are in National Parks?

A listing of lighthouses in the National Park System can be found at the NPS Maritime Parks page.


Where can I stay at a lighthouse?

For lighthouses that are publicly accessible see the non-NPS site "Lighthouses with overnight accommodations".


How do I become a lighthouse keeper, i.e., volunteer?

Boston Harbor Light Station is the only remaining light station in the United States to have an official keeper. All other stations are automated. Many lighthouses, however, rely on volunteers for everyday management, maintenance, interpretation, etc. Try contacting the lighthouses which interest you directly. Lighthouses which are publicly accessible are listed by region under the Lighthouses to Visit pages; contact information for many is provided. Many regional and national lighthouse organizations rely on volunteers as well. Many of these are listed under Sources of Information.


How do I research ancestors who were lighthouse keepers?

Most surviving lighthouse service records are part of Record Group 26 in the National Archives. Under Record Group 26, Entry 98, "List of Light-House Keepers and Other Employees," is available on microfilm. For more general information on conducting genealogical research at the National Archives.

Lighthouse employees are also included in the Official Register of Federal Employees for odd years from about 1840 to 1890. (There's a set in the second floor research room in the main branch of the National Archives in Washington, D.C.; the publication and may also be available at some federal depository libraries.) Lighthouse keepers became part of the Federal Civil Service in 1896.

Great Lakes Lighthouse Research, Dayton, Ohio, has compiled a five-book series listing Great Lakes lighthouse keepers and lighthouse tender crews. Email Thomas Tag for more information.

If the individual served with the U.S. Coast Guard, you may want to contact the National Personnel Records Center (9700 Page Avenue, Saint Louis, MO 63132). Please be advised that privacy restrictions apply to these records.


Can I use a photo off your Michigan Lighthouse Project web site?

You may reproduce any photos credited to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), National Park Service (NPS), or the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). These images are in the public domain; however, images from other sources require permission for reuse by their owners. When reproducing SHPO, NPS, or USCG photos, please provide proper credit.


What are the Michigan auto license plates that display a lighthouse and how can I obtain one?

Lighthouse License Plate

The lighthouse license plate is available from the Secretary of State where you purchase your license plates and tags. In addition to the required auto identification license plate, a collector's plate is also available. Both depict an image of the White Shoal Lighthouse. The funds raised from the sale of the license plates go to the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program and are used for matching grants to assist in the preservation and restoration of Michigan's historic lighthouses. The Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program is administered by the State Historic Preservation Office, Michigan Historical Center, Department of History, Arts and Libraries.


This program is financed in part with federal funds from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of the Interior. This program receives federal financial assistance for identification and protection of historic properties. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, or age in its federally assisted programs. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility as described above, or if you desire further information, please write to: Office for Equal Opportunity, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20240.

State Historic Preservation Office, Michigan State Housing Development Authority
Send comments about this page to preservation@michigan.gov.

Related Content
 •  Introduction to the Michigan Lighthouse Project
 •  About the Michigan Lighthouse Project
 •  About the Michigan Lighthouse Fund
 •  About the Michigan Lighthouse Alliance
 •  "SAVE OUR LIGHTS" Specialty License Plates
 •  How You Can Help a Lighthouse
 •  National Historic Lighthouse Act of 2000
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