SJ looking at historic lighthouse keeper's house

John Matuszak /HP StaffThe city of St. Joseph is looking into a possible purchase of this house near the St. Joseph River, built in 1908 as a residence for the lighthouse keeper. The U.S. Coast Guard now owns the building and is looking to sell.

ST. JOSEPH — The city of St. Joseph is looking at possibly obtaining another piece of its maritime history, after acquiring and restoring its iconic lighthouses.

On Monday commissioners gave City Manager John Hodgson the go-ahead to look into the possible purchase of the house built in 1908 that once served as a residence for the lighthouse keepers and their assistants.

Hodgson explained that the brick duplex house at 107 N. Pier St., that sits along the St. Joseph River near the North Pier, had most recently been used by the U.S. Coast Guard, which is looking to dispose of the property.

St. Joseph obtained the two lighthouses, built in 1907, at no cost through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, with the promise that the structures would be restored and maintained. A public fundraising campaign brought in close to $2 million for the project, which was completed in 2016.

The house is being offered under the Coast Guard Housing Authority Act, which allows it to be sold at fair market value, with the proceeds going toward new military housing.

Hodgson said the Coast Guard is ready to make the property available to the general public, and can consider a “direct sale” to the city. That would require a letter of intent from the city to begin the negotiation process to determine the fair market value of the house.

The city manager did not have a ballpark figure for what the price could be, but did say that other houses in the areas have sold for as much as $500,000.

The letter of intent would not commit the city to a purchase, but would begin the discussion, Hodgson said.

“Authorizing interest in a direct sale would afford the community the ability to learn the potential terms of acquisition and to learn more about the condition of the structure, potential additional costs, and how it could contribute to the educational and cultural programming of the lighthouse complex,” Hodgson said. “Potential costs during the exploration process would include the cost of an appraisal of the property, and perhaps a review of the structure’s condition and integrity by a historic architect.”

The dwelling has direct pedestrian access to Tiscornia Park and the base of the North Pier, by a walking path along the river. St. Joseph has partnered with the Heritage Museum to provide tours of the lighthouses and pier.

In other business Monday, commissioners approved the purchase of a new shelter to replace the recently demolished Briarwood pavilion at Riverview Park. Cost of the new shelter is $99,000.

The Briarwood structure was built in the early 1940s and was badly deteriorated. Greg Grothous, assistant director of public works, said the new shelter will be made of metal. He said that staff looked at timber shelters similar to the old Briarwood structure, and the cheapest one was $150,000.

Grothous said he expected to have the new shelter up by early May of next year.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak