Lighthouses often hold a special place in people’s hearts. They’re viewed as symbols of America’s maritime history. The beacons guiding sailors back to safe harbor are metaphors for guiding lights in our lives too. That might be why the idea of spending a little time living in one of the historic structures is so appealing to many people. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Skye Rohde talked with the owners of a lighthouse that’s now operated as a place to vacation:
Lighthouses often hold a special place in people’s hearts. They’re viewed as symbols of
America’s maritime history. The beacons guiding sailors back to safe harbor are metaphors for
guiding lights in our lives too. That might be why the idea of spending a little time living in one
of the historic structures is so appealing to many people. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Skye Rohde talked with the owners of a lighthouse that’s now operated as a place to vacation:
The Selkirk lighthouse sits at the mouth of the Salmon River on Lake Ontario. It’s scenic,
although the area is not very well known – except to salmon fishers. But some people, once they
visit find they keep coming back. Jim walker was one of those people.
“I didn’t move to Pulaski to buy the lighthouse at all. I was living and working quite comfortably
with a family in a lovely location in Maine and came out here on a fishing trip. A friend of mine
got ahold of me and said, ‘We have to go to a place called Pulaski, New York.’ I said, ‘Pulaski,
New York. Now what’s a good reason for going there?'”
Walker came to Pulaski on Veteran’s Day weekend in 1986 with 10 friends. But when the time
came for them to leave, half the group didn’t want to go.
“They were just having such a great time. We were fishing in the snow in the river, catching
steelhead, having a ball. And none of us had had the chance to experience anything like this
A couple of the men started talking about investing in the area’s hospitality industry. They
looked at some properties over the winter, and when the Selkirk lighthouse came up for sale in
1987, walker made an offer.
Sixteen years later, walker has turned the old lighthouse into short-term rental housing. It’s
become a popular stop with a 98-percent occupancy rate and visitors from over 100 countries.
Since then the lighthouse has operated as a lifesaving station, private residence, resort and
“designated historic landmark.” In 1989, the coast guard reactivated the Selkirk lighthouse
The lighthouse itself is a 3-story rectangular stone building with an octagonal glass lantern house
on top. Wayne Wheeler is President of the San Francisco-based U.S. lighthouse society.
Wheeler says the Selkirk lighthouse is one of a dying breed.
“It’s a unique structure in that it has the old-style lantern on the tower. There are only three or
four of those remaining in the country.”
Only 20 of the 600 lighthouses across the nation offer some kind of lodging, either in the actual
working lighthouse or in keepers’ quarters nearby.
Richard Moehl is President of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, which
encourages lighthouse preservation and restoration on the Great Lakes. Moehl says people
appreciate the uniqueness of spending the night in a lighthouse.
“People just love to be able to say ‘I did this, and at a historic lighthouse,’ versus a walk-through,
one-time light station. You have an opportunity to work there and live there, eat there, cook
And people will pay for the chance to do just that.
Nicole Paternaster is Manager of the Selkirk lighthouse and has worked there off and on for 15
years. Walking in through the kitchen door, she points out the building’s attributes.
Bathroom, stand-up shower and the kitchen area are mainly what make up the addition part of the
lighthouse. And here’s the stone wall that I just absolutely love. And all the amenities of home
away from home… (fades under)
It’s homey and relaxed. The floorboards in the first-floor bedroom are original. Paternaster and
walker are working to replace the windows with original-style ones, whenever the lighthouse isn’t
The staircase to the third floor is blocked off right now, since a couple of stairs up to the
lighthouse are too rickety to use. But you can get to the top. Nicole Paternaster led me, creeping
past the roof rafters and around the spiral staircase, through a wooden portal and then up a metal
ladder leaned against the wall. At the top we popped up in the lantern room itself.
“You can see the river, you can see the lake, you can see what’s called Deer Creek Marsh. But it
is absolutely gorgeous. And of course, today it’s a windy day, so you can see all the waves
breaking out there. I just love it.”
The guests love it too. New Jersey resident Len Levonaitis and his family have fished in the area
for 15 years.
“When I go on vacation, I don’t want to be in the midst of the craziness, you know, downtown
Pulaski, where the salmon fishing is hot and heavy and there are hundreds of guys there. It’s nice
to be able to go out and find a place like the lighthouse. What’s nice about it is that it’s right
there, you know, on the lake. You can see the fish coming in.”
Like Levonaitis, many guests find themselves visiting again. Some have already booked their
stays for 2004 and even 2005.
Jim Walker says owning the lighthouse has been a valuable experience, but after 16 years he’s
ready to pass the torch on to somebody else and focus on other business.
“I’ve reached the hard conclusion of trying to recruit a replacement. No, that’s not just put a
piece of property on the market for sale, but it’s to recruit someone who basically has a younger
body, a lot of motivation and similar ideals to try to pick up and carry the ball from here.”
Walker has advertised the property in different lighthouse publications. It’s listed at one-and-a-
quarter million dollars. So far, there have been a few inquiries.
“It’s a very, very unusual place, one of the last of its kind. That’s, that’s the type of thing we
need to polish up and pass along to the best of our ability.”
Walker says he’s sure the right person will emerge to keep the light shining and the door open to
future guests at the Selkirk lighthouse.
For the great lakes radio consortium, I’m Skye Rohde.