Sheila Consaul (left), Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse (center) and Consaul during the renovation project (right). Sheila Consaul
- The National Lighthouse Preservation Act allows the public to purchase a lighthouse.
- Purchased by Sheila Consaul in 2011, the Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse was first lit in 1925.
- “I have made it clear that I am only the caretaker of this lighthouse,” Consaul told Insider.
In 2011, Sheila Consaul purchased a lighthouse under a state program that allowed people to purchase state-owned lighthouses. She was looking for a summer home and loved restoring historic buildings, she told Insider.
When he’s not staying at the Lighthouse in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, Consaul lives outside of Washington, DC. She told Insider that she found out through her DC channels that the Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse had been auctioned off.
The National Lighthouse Preservation Act was passed in 2000 and provides the public with the opportunity to purchase a lighthouse, some of which work and some of which do not. Even the active lighthouses are now automated, including the one at Consaul, which runs on solar energy, she told Insider.
Consaul has been renovating the lighthouse since 2011. “The Coast Guard has been providing light all along, but they haven’t maintained the building very well. So when I got it, it was in really bad shape,” she added.
Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse. Sheila Consaul
The lighthouse was originally heated by a mysteriously missing coal heater and therefore can only be opened during the summer months between May and October, Consaul said. The lighthouse was first lit in 1925 and the utilities are still as they were in the 1920s.
Renovating a historic building comes with some benefits, such as hidden treasures. “We found some interesting things that had just been thrown into the attic. One was a box that shipped the original refrigerator to the lighthouse in the 1940s,” Consaul told Insider.
The original refrigerator was transported in the box in the 1940s. Sheila Consaul
At the same time, renovating a historic building also brings with it some major setbacks. Consaul told Insider that when he bought the house, there were no electrical connections or modern plumbing systems.
However, this did not stop Consaul from restoring the lighthouse to a livable condition. She told Insider that she gets her electricity from a generator, although she has also tried sustainable energy sources like a solar-wind combination system.
“I’m not allowed to take water from the lake, so I have to collect rainwater from the roof. There I get water for showering and washing dishes. I have composting toilets. Therefore, I don’t have wastewater to dispose of like I do,” Consaul added.
But with the addition of new, modern equipment, more problems arose. “When it came to the really big things, like appliances, granite countertops, water treatment equipment, everything had to come by barge,” she told Insider, adding that the barge costs $2,500 per day.
Consaul estimates that around $300,000 has been spent on the project so far.
The barge was used to transport equipment to the Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse. Sheila Consaul
Consaul said that while she was able to park her car in the state park parking lot with lighter supplies, the walk to the lighthouse was about a half mile.
“Everything you can imagine has to be done by hand, back and forth,” Consaul told Insider. “It’s a 40 minute walk each way.”
However, it was difficult to find people as committed to the project as she was. “I contacted a lot of tradesmen who might come by once to look at the work and then I never heard from them again,” she said. “It took me a lot of time to find the right people who were ready to take on the challenge.”
Consaul told Insider the property has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen and a utility room.
One of the bedrooms in the Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse. Sheila Consaul
Before they open to the public, Consaul told Insider that the state-owned lighthouses would first be offered to non-profit organizations or charities. “After clearing a lot of paperwork explaining how they will maintain it, repair it, renovate it and open it to the public, the government will award the lighthouse to this group,” she said.
The GSA (General Services Administration) is “for lack of a better description, the real estate agency of the federal government,” Consaul told Insider. “They make a list, and there are usually 10 to 15 a year, of lighthouses that they want to dispose of.”
In Fairport Harbor, where the Consaul Lighthouse is located, there is another lighthouse that is about 100 years older and is now called the Fairport Harbor Marine Museum. Demolition was planned, and the Town of Fairport took a stand and formed a historical society to save this community landmark, Consaul said.
“When mine came up for auction, the city of Fairport Harbor had already been through it, so to speak, and really didn’t have the resources to do it again,” Consaul told Insider.
Sheila Consaul with the Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse. Sheila Consaul
Since no community groups had claim to the property, it was sold at public auction in 2009. Consaul bid on the lighthouse three times and took possession of it in November 2011, she told Insider.
Locals were happy to see this symbol of their community brought back to life. “Many members of the community helped with the renovations by painting, taking out trash, carrying items in, cleaning and many other tasks,” Consaul said.
Since she bought the lighthouse, she has hosted an open house every year on the anniversary of the lighthouse’s first lighting.
She told Insider: “Hundreds of people come by now. Most people in the community have spent their lives looking at the whole thing and never seeing the inside. This year about 800 people came by in one afternoon.”
“It is very much a symbol, an icon of the community,” Consaul said. “I have made it clear that I am only the caretaker of this lighthouse.”
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