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Historic Superior lighthouse sold at auction

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A compact building with a main hall and a light tower
Wisconsin Point lighthouse
Randen Pederson via Creative Commons on Flickr

A historic lighthouse perched on the shore of Lake Superior has a new owner: a 34-year old tech industry executive from San Francisco, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and has a soft spot for Thoreau.

Steven Broudy won the lighthouse, which sits on the tip of Wisconsin Point in Superior, Wis., at auction last week with a high bid of $159,000.

Broudy bought the 56-foot structure, built in 1913, sight unseen.

“My inspiration is Henry David Thoreau,” he explained. “I'm a huge fan of ‘Walden’ and just the idea of finding a place to live in isolation, and just be very deliberate, has always been really inspiring to me.”

Since 2000, the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act has allowed the U.S. General Services Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard to sell historic lighthouses the government no longer needs to own. Broudy said he’d been scouring federal real estate listings for lighthouses for the past eight years.

When the lighthouse at the Superior entrance to the Duluth-Superior harbor went up for sale last month, he knew it was the property he had been waiting for: It’s a relatively easy flight from San Francisco to Duluth. And its setting, situated alone on a point jutting into Lake Superior with a nearly 360-degree view of the water, captivated Broudy. “There's something deeply moving about it,” he said.

The auction listing described the lighthouse as “an historic, rectangular-shaped concrete fog signal topped with a concrete cylindrical tower,” with a two-story main building with living quarters. The lighthouse is painted bright white with a red roof.

Broudy said he plans to renovate the interior, and hopes to spend at least a few weeks every summer in the lighthouse. He also said it could be rented out as a writer’s retreat, or through Airbnb.

“What's really important to me is being able to create a place where I can go and visit, or others can come and visit, that really just feels like a unique snapshot in history,” he said.

Over the past two decades, the federal government has sold 139 lighthouses, for anywhere from $10,000 to nearly $1 million. The program has brought in about $7.5 million, said spokesperson Cat Langel.

Some buyers just keep them and preserve them, she said. Others have turned them into museums or private residences.

“We are just really thankful when people want to step up and purchase lighthouses to preserve these pieces of maritime history,” she said.

Broudy is moving into his new role as a lighthouse owner with eyes wide open. He knows it will likely be a “headache,” as he described it, with miles of red tape to navigate.

The lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so any changes he makes will have to maintain the historic character of the structure.

He’ll also need to grant an access easement to the Coast Guard so the light can be maintained as an active navigation aid for boaters, Langel said.

But for Broudy, it’s worth it. His wife has a rare form of cancer that’s recently spread to different parts of her body. “Life’s just too short,” he explained. “So having a place where she can have peace is going to be incredibly valuable and important.”

Broudy said he’s already sent the government his money and plans to visit the lighthouse for the first time next week.

Meanwhile, for others in the market for an historic lighthouse, the government has three others for sale — one in Florida, and two in the Great Lakes, including one located off shore from Michigan on Lake Huron.