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Looking for a lighthouse? Three in Delaware Bay are free

WILMINGTON, Del. — The federal government is trying to give away some lighthouses.

Schools, museums and other public entities are invited to apply for ownership of three Delaware Bay lighthouses made available through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

The Coast Guard owns the structures.

The 11-year-old act enables the U.S. General Services Administration to offer the lighthouses — for free — for education, park, cultural or historic preservation purposes, according to New England region spokeswoman Paula Santangelo.

“Through the transfer of these lighthouses to eligible entities, we’re ensuring that they’re enjoyed for many years to come,” she said.

If selected after a rigorous application process, the steward is required to make the lighthouse accessible to the public in some way and must follow the historic covenants associated with the stewardship, Santangelo said. The Coast Guard will continue to maintain the lights, she said.

“Even though there is GPS and other technological devices, these are still needed and still active navigational aids because, of course, (of) dangerous areas,” she said.

Miah Maull Shoal, Ship John Shoal and Brandywine Shoal are the three lighthouses available, all on the New Jersey side of the bay. All are accessible only by boat.

While the Coast Guard no longer houses anyone in the buildings, it still maintains automated lights on top, said Meta Cushing, who is overseeing the Miah Maul Shoal Light transfer for the GSA.

Miah Maull, built in 1913, is a cast iron, 45-foot tall red tower with a black lantern. Its three-story interior is lined with brick. It is one of a series of shoals along the Delaware Bay, sitting 12 miles east of Bowers Beach and southeast of the coast of Fortescue, N.J.

Ship John, about 3 miles east of Bombay Hook in Delaware and 3 miles south of the mouth of the Cohansey River in New Jersey, is the northernmost lighthouse in the Delaware Bay. It was built in 1877 as a marker of a hazardous underwater terrain feature known as Ship John Shoal. The light has a watch room and octagonal lantern.

Brandywine, built in 1914, is 12 miles east of Slaughter Beach in Delaware and 9 miles northwest of the southern tip of New Jersey. It is a cast-iron structure featuring a deck that supports a three-story dwelling.

All three of the lighthouses are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since the first year of the Lighthouse Preservation Act, the GSA has overseen 60 transfers, Cushing said. Robbins Reef Lighthouse, off the coast of Bayonne, was the first in New Jersey lighthouse to be transferred after Noble Maritime Collection in Staten Island, N.Y., became its steward.

“If it can’t find a steward, the lighthouse may be sold at auction,” Cushing said. A steward could make use of it for field trips, science projects or even create a shore-based museum, she said.

“They’re tailor-made for education,” Cushing said. “It just takes someone to commit themselves to it.”

In 2007, a California lawyer and businessman, Michael L. Gabriel, bought the Fourteen Foot Bank lighthouse on the Delaware side of the bay in an online auction for $200,000. The lighthouse is 10 miles off Bowers Beach.