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New chapter set to begin for Boston Light as new steward sought for historic lighthouse

The Coast Guard has been the steward of 304-year-old Boston Light since 1939.
The Coast Guard has been the steward of 304-year-old Boston Light since 1939.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The oldest staffed lighthouse in the United States is about to change hands.

On Wednesday the US Coast Guard announced that it has partnered with the US General Services Administration to transfer stewardship of Boston Light, which is located on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor.

The federal agencies are seeking a new steward for the 304-year-old lighthouse through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, Coast Guard officials said in a press release Wednesday.

The decision to move forward with this process was announced at a virtual meeting of the Boston Harbor Islands Partnership on Wednesday, officials said.

Boston Light is a well-known landmark in Boston Harbor with a history that dates back to 1716. The tower sustained its share of damage over the years (thanks to a fire in 1720, then a severe storm in 1723, and then another fire in 1751), but each time it was repaired or rebuilt, according to the National Park Service. But the most significant damage happened during the Revolutionary War, when the British occupied Boston Light. On July 20, 1775, patriots burned the wooden parts of the tower, and in June 1776 the British blew up the lighthouse. The tower was rebuilt in 1783, and still stands on the island to this day.

According to the National Park Service, it’s the oldest continually used and last staffed lighthouse in the country. The Coast Guard has been the official steward of it since 1939.

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“Over those eighty-one years, Light Station Boston has evolved from a navigational facility to a lighthouse museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic places,” Coast Guard officials said in the press release. “By transferring stewardship through the NHLPA, the U.S. Coast Guard’s goal is to ensure the future historic preservation and public access of Light Station Boston.”

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Kathy Abbott, the CEO and president of Boston Harbor Now, one of several organizations that belong to the Boston Harbor Islands Partnership, said the goal is to preserve Boston Light for future generations to enjoy.

“Boston Light was the site of the first lighthouse built in America and is one of the best known icons in Boston Harbor," she said in an e-mailed statement. "This beloved National Historic Landmark is steeped in our country’s history dating to the American Revolution and is as relevant today as an icon of our strength and resilience. Continued public access to this historic American treasure is critical to the public’s ability to enjoy its beauty and history. Boston Harbor Now looks forward to being a strong voice in the vigorous public discussion about its future and the importance of it remaining within the public domain for successive generations to enjoy.”

For the past 20 years the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 has provided a way for the federal government to transfer historic lighthouses to other entities, including state and local governments, nonprofit corporations, and educational and community development organizations.

“The NHLPA meets the U.S. Coast Guard’s statutory mandate to develop a plan to provide public access to Light Station Boston and Little Brewster Island and to ensure the special historic character of the light will be preserved," officials said in the press release. "The U.S. Coast Guard trusts the NHLPA process, which has led to over 100 successful lighthouse transfers across the country, to bring about the best steward for Light Station Boston.”

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The federal government has divested itself of many lighthouses in recent years. Minot’s Ledge Light, which was located about a mile offshore Scituate and Cohasset, is just one example. It ultimately went on the auction block in 2014 and was purchased by philanthropist Bobby Sager.

Coast Guard officials said in their statement that the Coast Guard will continue to maintain the active aid-to-navigation at Boston Light and the island’s fog signal, and that the Coast Guard and General Services Administration will “transparently coordinate with various organizations that have an interest in Boston Light, including the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, Boston Harbor Islands Partnership (BHIP), and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."


Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.