Lighthouse in Need of Keepers — Wilderness North

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Lighthouse in Need of Keepers

The U.S. Coast Guard this week listed Duluth’s red-roofed South Pier Lighthouse as available property and is looking for a group to take on its care.

“This light station is being made available at no cost to eligible entities defined as federal agencies, state and local agencies, non-profit corporations, educational agencies, or community development organizations, for education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes,” the “for sale” listing states.

The brick structure with its 44-foot tower first lit on June 2, 1874, and parallels the taller, black-capped light on the north pier, which is not listed as available. The lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The lighthouse became expendable when the U.S. Coast Guard deemed the structure, which is approximately the size of a small house, as an “excess” to their needs, said Doug Sharp, marine information specialist with the 9th Coast Guard District’s Office of Aids to Navigation.

Under any deal, however, the federal government will keep an easement so it can maintain the beacon and fog horn.

“We don’t need the whole piece of property,” Sharp said. “We just need it to support our light.”

Many lighthouses once had someone living in them or nearby who was dedicated to keeping them in good shape, Sharp said. But it has become an expensive proposition to maintain them in modern times.

In many cases, he said, historical organizations take ownership of the lighthouses and restore them to their original condition.
“These private entities take these things over and they make them golden,” Sharp said. “They’re beautiful, actually.” If there are no qualified takers for the lighthouse, it could be put up for public auction in about a year.

Asked if it is livable, Sharp said: “Sure. If you want to listen to the fog signal. It’s not on all the time, but when it’s on you’ll know it.”

Any eligible entity with an interest in acquiring the light station for a use consistent with its purpose must submit a letter of interest by the end of July to Arthur T. Ullenber, U.S. General Services Administration, Real Property Utilization & Disposal Division, Chicago Operations Branch, 230 S. Dearborn Street, Room 3500, Chicago, Illinois 60604.

The South Pier Rear Range Light, on the mainland near the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, was sold to a private party a decade ago for $31,000 after no non-profit or government agency sought to take it over.

The sixty-seven foot-tall white iron lantern room is made up of a black steel framework and a central cylinder housing a cast-iron cylindrical staircase. The tower’s light was first lit in 1901.

It was Duluth businessman Steven Sola and a friend who decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “You don’t get the chance to buy something like this very often … but, all you can really do is take care of it for the next guy,” Sola said. “You’re really just borrowing it. That’s cool. We weren’t going to pass it up.”

Sola and Matt Kampf, both of Duluth, placed the winning bid of $31,000 for the light tower in 2008, formally called the Duluth Harbor South Breakwater Inner Light.

Sola grew up on Park Point. His family owns the South Pier Inn. Kampf grew up in Hibbing but lived many years on Cape Cod before moving to Duluth.

This was not Sola’s first brush with a bit of Duluth history. In February 2007, he was one of the people who discovered the remains of a wooden ship about 150 feet off Park Point near the 2600 block of Minnesota Avenue. The wreck is believed to be the Amethyst, a harbor tug that was scuttled in 1888.

While in the area, be sure to visit the the Canal Park Maritime Museum which is run by the Army Corps of Engineers, and located on the north side of the canal tight against the lift bridge. We found this to be a fascinating museum, with various displays relating to Great Lakes shipping history, and highly recommend including a visit during any visit to Duluth. Museum hours vary by season. Summer hours generally are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; Spring and Fall hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, and Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. For more information, call the museum at (218) 727-2497

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