MINOT’S LEDGE LIGHT — About a mile offshore from Scituate and Cohasset, Minot’s Ledge Light stands alone, surrounded by ocean. Waves splash and pound against its granite foundation; the legendary lighthouse was constructed so well that it has survived the strongest of storms and fiercest of gales since 1860.
But now the federal government is divesting itself of a number of lighthouses it no longer needs along the nation’s coast, including the Light, now the object of an open auction. Bidding began at a modest $10,000 in August, but it had escalated to $200,000 by last Thursday. The spartan structure is evidently desirable to some, despite its forbidding location and limited accessibility.
It’s not your typical waterfront property. The lighthouse can be reached only by boat, and getting inside the building is a challenge unto itself.
The US General Services Administration recently chartered a boat from the University of Massachusetts Boston to take potential bidders to the property so they could see it up close and take a look inside. Some of them would later submit bids through the GSA’s online auction website, www.realestatesales.gov.
The UMass landing craft left Cohasset Harbor on a bright fall morning, bouncing over the blue water toward the lighthouse, which appeared like a small dark pillar standing out on the horizon. The sturdy gray tower sits on Minot’s Ledge, a nearly submerged rocky outcropping blamed for many shipwrecks in the 19th century.
The beacon, nicknamed the “I Love You” light because of its 1-4-3 flashing sequence, has been featured on postcards and all kinds of advertisements from cigarettes to cranberries, and it has served as the inspiration for songs, poems, and even beer. (Hingham Beer Works sells a lager called Minot Light.)
In about 20 minutes, the vessel was alongside, and the three potential buyers onboard were looking up at the stone structure, imagining what it might be like to own this piece of maritime history. The lighthouse is made of interlocking granite blocks quarried in Quincy. Barnacles cover the bottom portion, where the stone meets the water. A bronze ladder on the side of the tower leads to the entrance 30 feet above. Decades of exposure to the elements have turned the ladder a shade of seafoam green. Even on a relatively warm day, the ladder felt freezing cold.
Secured by harnesses, the visitors climbed slowly up the steps, one by one, until they reached the entrance. Its thick, wooden fortress-like front door was swung wide open.
Inside, the walls are red brick. Dust coats the granite sills of the small square windows. Back when lightkeepers were stationed on this lonely beacon, the first floor was used for storage. In the middle of the room is a round, rusted cap that leads to a deep cistern that once held the keepers’ drinking water.
The lighthouse has five floors, with curved iron stairways connecting the levels. Layers of rust cover the stairway railings. The inside felt spooky and claustrophobic and cool. The upper floors are made of metal grating; if you look down, you can see through to the floors below.
Standing inside those round, empty rooms, it’s hard to believe that people once ate and slept in the lighthouse. In 1947, Minot’s beacon was automated, and lightkeepers were no longer needed.
Today, the light runs off solar power and batteries, and the Coast Guard stops by periodically to make sure the light and foghorn are in good working condition. And it will continue to do so, even after the property changes hands to a private owner: The government reserves the right to operate the light and foghorn after the sale.
This is not the first time Minot’s Ledge Light has been up for grabs. In 2009, the government offered it for free to nearby towns and historic and educational nonprofit organizations. But there were no takers.
When it went on the auction block, a bidding war quickly ensued as more and more potential buyers entered the fray.
The auction will go on as long as bidding continues. If there are no new bids within a 24-hour period, the light will be considered sold to the highest bidder.
Uncle Sam has sold 39 lighthouses through similar online auctions, said Patrick J. Sclafani, a spokesman for the General Services Administration.
The biggest sale thus far has been Graves Light in Boston Harbor, purchased by a Boston businessman in 2013 for $933,888, said Sclafani.
“Each lighthouse is unique,” he said in an e-mail. “Given that there are a limited number of lighthouses made available by the government and there is an abundance of people passionate about lighthouses, competition is strong.”
The General Services Administration expects to put another four to six offshore lighthouses up for sale next year, he said.