Thursday, December 12, 2013
The federal government wants to give away two historic Maine lighthouses -- but not to just anyone.
Halfway Rock Light Station is located about 10 miles east of Portland Head Light on a 2-acre rock ledge. The lighthouse, which began operating in 1871, is a 76-foot-tall granite tapered tower. Special feature: a boathouse.
Boon Island Light Station sits a mere 6 miles off the coast of York and boasts a lively history. It has operated since 1812, but the tower was replaced in 1855. At 123 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse on the Maine coast.
Agencies interested in owning Boon Island Light Station, off York, or Halfway Rock Light Station, off Harpswell, must be committed to preserving the structures' historical integrity and willing to try to make the islands they are located on accessible to the public, said Patrick Sclafani, spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration in Boston.
Interested parties have until July 16 to submit a letter stating their interest, Sclafani said.
Eligible organizations will then be required by the National Park Service to fill out an application, and will be given an opportunity to visit the lighthouses.
If there is no interest demonstrated by a nonprofit organization, state or local government, historic preservation group, or community development organization by the July 16 deadline, the lighthouses will be sold at auction.
Ram Island Ledge Light in Casco Bay was auctioned off in 2010 for $190,000 to Jeffrey Florman, a Windham brain surgeon, after there was no interest shown by any preservation groups. Florman won the lighthouse in a coin flip with Portland real estate developer Art Girard.
"Historic lighthouses are unique in that they have sentimental and tangible value as historic landmarks in local communities. Through the preservation program, GSA helps find new stewards for excess lighthouses that are no longer considered mission critical to the United States coast," GSA's acting commissioner of public buildings, Linda Chero, said in a prepared statement.
Boon Island Light, which is about six miles off the town of York, and the Halfway Rock lighthouse are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The challenge facing the government, according to Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, will be finding an organization willing to invest the time and money that will be needed to preserve the lighthouses and make them accessible to the public.
"Halfway Rock and Boon Island are both in the middle of the ocean and both are located on very small rock formations," Shettleworth noted. He said he remains hopeful that a caretaker with an interest in history will step forward with a proposal.
"The history behind Boon Island is extraordinary," Shettleworth pointed out, referring to the 1956 novel "Boon Island" by Kenneth Roberts.
In the novel, Roberts writes about what happened to the crew of the Nottingham Galley after the ship, which set out from London for Boston in 1710, struck Boon Island -- at the time a desolate, lighthouse-less rock off the coast of Maine.
All of the crew made it to shore, but the ship and its cargo were lost. Stranded on the island without food or fire, the crew resorted to cannibalizing a dead man before they were rescued.
Tim Harrison is editor and publisher of Lighthouse Digest in Whiting. He also served as president of the Rockland-based American Lighthouse Foundation for 13 years before leaving that post in 2007.
Harrison has heard that the ALF will submit a letter of interest for Boon Island.
"My guess is that no one will step forward for Halfway Rock and it will be purchased by a private individual with deep pockets," Harrison said. "But, as for Boon Island, I can see an ideal partnership between the town of York and the American Lighthouse Foundation."
Harrison said the two groups could charge people for helicopter rides to Boon Island, something that a preservation group in California is doing now to raise money for restoring St. George Reef Light.
York Town Manager Rob Yandow said the Board of Selectmen is scheduled to consider applying for ownership of Boon Island Light at its June 25 meeting.
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