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  • Writer's pictureSusan Harbourt

Privately Owned Lighthouses: Celebrating Heritage Beyond Museums

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Portage River Lighthouse Jacobsville Michigan
Portage River Lighthouse Jacobsville Michigan, est 1869 and privately owned since 1958.

Historic properties, especially historic maritime properties, carry a sense of wonder and nostalgia, acting as portals to the past. While many are transformed into museums, some unique structures, such as lighthouses, find themselves in private hands. In this blog post, we delve into the reasons why individuals can privately own lighthouses and explore the importance of maintaining historic properties outside the realm of traditional museums.

  1. Preserving History: Privately owned lighthouses offer an opportunity to preserve and honor our rich maritime heritage. These structures served as guardians of the coast, guiding ships and saving countless lives. By allowing private ownership, we ensure the continued existence of lighthouses as living testaments to our seafaring past. The commitment of private owners to maintain and restore these beacons helps retain historical authenticity and prevents the irreversible loss of our maritime history.

  2. Financial Viability: Historic properties, including lighthouses, often require significant investments for restoration and ongoing maintenance. Privatizing these structures allows individuals to take on the financial responsibility of preserving them. While public funding for preservation is limited, private owners can inject much-needed capital into the restoration and maintenance efforts, ensuring the longevity of these architectural treasures.

  3. Flexibility in Restoration: Privately owned lighthouses benefit from the flexibility of restoration and adaptation. Traditional museums often require adherence to strict preservation guidelines, limiting modifications that can be made. Private owners, on the other hand, can balance historical preservation with practical considerations, such as creating living spaces, bed and breakfast accommodations, or unique experiences for visitors. This adaptability ensures that lighthouses remain relevant, functional, and accessible to the public.

  4. Local Community Engagement: Privately owned lighthouses often become focal points for community engagement and economic development. These properties can serve as catalysts for local tourism, attracting visitors to coastal regions and contributing to the overall prosperity of the area. Owners can collaborate with local organizations, artisans, and businesses, fostering a sense of pride and connection within the community.

  5. Diverse Interpretation and Access: While museums play a crucial role in historical preservation, privately owned lighthouses offer a different lens through which history can be experienced. These properties provide owners the freedom to curate unique narratives, share personal stories, and offer intimate insights into the lighthouse's past. This diverse interpretation adds a layer of authenticity and depth to our understanding of maritime heritage.

  6. Preservation Beyond Museum Walls: By allowing private individuals to own lighthouses, we expand the scope of historical preservation beyond the confines of museums. These privately owned properties become living, breathing representations of our shared history, visible and accessible to the public. They ignite curiosity, inspire connections, and foster a genuine appreciation for the importance of our coastal heritage.

While museums undoubtedly play a crucial role in preserving and showcasing historic properties, the concept of privately owned lighthouses presents an intriguing alternative. Through personal dedication, sustainable financial models, adaptive reuse, and community engagement, private owners bring a unique perspective to the preservation and celebration of our maritime history. As we embrace the importance of private ownership alongside museums, we celebrate the diversity of preservation approaches and ensure that these architectural treasures continue to shine as beacons of our past, present, and future.

In future posts, I will share more with you about how the Portage River Lighthouse in Jacobsville, Michigan made its journey from being an active maritime aid built in 1869 to private ownership. I will also give you a heads-up on how you can own a lighthouse of your very own.



Jun 18, 2023

What many people who are fans of historic structures don't realize when they become frustrated at not being able to access them for their pleasure is that these are privately owned properties being cared for by their owners at usually great expense, especially for insurance (liability, etc.). The insurance industry treats these as an attractive nuisance and charges as such. The owners are not being mean by not allowing unlimited access to their properties but being careful. So enjoy them at a safe distance with the boundaries that are set.


Jun 17, 2023

A great article.


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