- The National Lighthouse Preservation Act allows members of the public to purchase a lighthouse.
- The Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse, which Sheila Consol purchased in 2011, was first lit in 1925.
- “I made it clear that I was just the steward of this lighthouse,” Consol told Insider.
In 2011, Sheila bought a lighthouse console as part of a government scheme that allows people to buy government-owned lighthouses. She told Insider she was looking for a summer home and loved restoring the historic property.
When he’s not residing at the Lighthouse in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, Consol lives outside of Washington, D.C. She told Insider that she found out through her DC channels that the Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse had been put up for auction.
The National Lighthouse Preservation Act was passed in 2000 and provides members of the public the opportunity to purchase a lighthouse, some in operation and some not. Even active lighthouses are now automated, including Console lighthouses, which are solar-powered, she told Insider.
The consulate has been renovating the lighthouse since 2011. “The Coast Guard kept the lights on all the time, but they didn’t maintain the building well. So when I got it, it was in really bad shape,” she added.
The lighthouse was originally heated by a mysteriously missing coal fireplace, so it can now only be opened during the summer months between May and October, Consol said. The lighthouse was first lit in 1925, and so the facilities remain as they were in the 1920s.
Renovating a historic building comes with some perks, like hidden treasure. “We found some interesting things that had just been thrown in the attic. One of them was a box that used to ship the original refrigerator to the lighthouse in the 1940s,” Consol told Insider.
Meanwhile, the renovation of a historic building is also facing some major setbacks. Consol told Insider that there was no electricity connected to the home when she bought it, as well as no modern plumbing systems.
This did not deter Consol from his quest to renovate the lighthouse to livable conditions. She told Insider that she gets her power through a generator, though she has experimented with sustainable energy sources like a solar wind collection 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 showering and washing dishes. I have composting toilets. So I don’t have any sewage on my hands,” the consul added.
But with the addition of new modern devices, another set of problems emerged. “When it came to the really big things, like appliances, granite countertops, water treatment equipment, they all had to come by barge,” she told Insider, adding that the cost of a barge was $2,500 a day.
Consol estimates that about $300,000 has been spent on the project so far.
Consol said that although she can park her car with lighter supplies in the state park parking lot, it is about a half-mile walk to the lighthouse.
“Everything you can imagine has to be done manually, back and forth,” Consol told Insider. “It’s a 40-minute walk each way.”
However, it was difficult to find people as invested in the project as she was. “I’ve come across a lot of dealers who would come in once to look at a 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.”
The property has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and utility room, Consol told Insider.
Before opening them to the public, Consol told Insider that government-owned beacons are first given to non-profits or charities. “After a lot of papers explaining how to take care of it, repair it, renovate it and make it accessible to the public, the government will give 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,” Consol told Insider. “They come up with a list, usually 10 to 15 a year, of lighthouses they want to get rid of.”
In Fairport Harbor where the Consol Lighthouse is located, there is another lighthouse about 100 years old, now called the Fairport Harbor Maritime Museum. It was scheduled to be demolished, and the Fairport community took a stand, forming a historical society to save this beacon of their community, Consol said.
“When my lot went up for auction, the city of Fairport Harbor had already gone through this and didn’t have the wherewithal to do it again,” Consol told Insider.
So, with no community groups to claim ownership, it was put up for auction in 2009. The consul offered the lighthouse on three occasions and acquired it in November 2011, she told Insider.
Locals were excited that this symbol of their community was getting a new lease of life. “Many community members helped with the renovations by painting, trash removal, carrying items, cleaning and a lot of other tasks,” Consol said.
Since she purchased the lighthouse, she has held an annual open house on the anniversary of the lighthouse being first lit.
“I’ve had hundreds of people come through now. Most people in the community have looked at it their whole lives and never seen what’s inside. This year, about 800 people stopped by in one afternoon,” she told Insider.
“He’s a symbol and an icon of the community,” Consol said. “I made it clear that I am merely the steward of this lighthouse.”
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