Digest>Archives> December 2002

Bid to Sell Congressionally Transferred Maine Lighthouse Draws Probe and Criticism

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Squirrel Point Lighthouse, Maine.
Photo by: Katherine M. Lamson

The owner of Maine’s Squirrel Point Lighthouse is trying to sell the lighthouse again, and it is outraging local residents and lighthouse preservation groups.

Mike Trenholm of the Squirrel Point Associates claims that his failing health has left him unable to maintain the historic lighthouse that was given to him, free of charge, a number of years ago under a Congressional Transfer. Trenholm is asking $375,000, which includes over 4 acres of land, the light tower, keeper’s house, barn, oil house and boat house.

The lighthouse was originally supposed to be included in the Maine Lights Program, which was the forerunner to the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, which through a strict process finds and approves new owners for historic lighthouses. However, Squirrel Point Lighthouse mysteriously disappeared from the list when a Congressional Transfer gave it to Trenholm’s group.

Trenholm attempted to sell the light station in the late 1990’s for $500,000. However, because of criticism and complaints the potential sale was withdrawn. At that time Trenholm stated that the lighthouse was listed with a realtor in error, that he never meant to really sell it.

In 1998 the nearby non-profit Chewonki Foundation had entered into some negotiations to purchase the property from Trenholm for $150,000. This figure was the amount that Trenholm had said he had invested in the property. However, Chewonki’s evaluation and estimate of the work done and the general condition of the property did not fit the asking price.

Some government officials have stated that Trenholm has the legal right to sell the lighthouse to another non-profit, provided that the strict covenants of the deed are abided by. Other government officials have questioned whether a sale for profit would be legal.

In a letter signed by local residents to U.S. Senator Olympia Snow residents wrote, “We fear this Maine landmark is on the verge of being irreparably lost. We hope that you share our concern and take whatever action is necessary to ensure the preservation and continued access to the Squirrel Point Lighthouse, as well as prevent its inappropriate transfer for personal gain.”

However, Trenholm says he only wants to get back the money that he has put into the lighthouse so far. However, area residents dispute that fact, pointing out to the collapsed deck, siding falling off the house, overgrown weeds and brush. Lighthouse groups are saying Trenholm should get nothing for the property, stating that no one should be allowed to get ownership of a lighthouse with plans of selling it for a profit of any kind, especially when he got it for free. The sale of the lighthouse would create a dangerous precedent say preservationists.

In the meantime, The Maine Historic Preservation Commission, which oversees historic preservation in the state, made a recent inspection visit to the lighthouse. Their inspection resulted in a six-page letter to Squirrel Point Associates outlining either improper restoration or lack thereof done to the property since Trenholm took over. Some of the alterations that were not approved by the State Historic Preservation Office were the insertion of three arched openings between rooms on the first and second floors, installation of baseboard, window and door trim on the first floor that does not match historic profiles, removal of the wooden gutter on the kitchen porch.

The letter went on to state that the wooden walkways around the boathouse and front of the dwelling were in a deteriorated condition, wooden trim on all the buildings need to be painted, gutters and downspouts need to be repaired or reinstalled, most of the deck surface and various elements of the related structural system are missing and one third of the siding was missing from the east side of the building.

The letter then went on with two pages giving detailed instructions to remove the many historically inaccurate improvements that had been made and change them to be historically accurate. The letter gave Trenholm a December 15 deadline to submit a plan to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission as to how the corrections would be made and gave him until Sept 1, 2003 to complete the work.

This would indicate that most of the improvements that Trenholm made, now need to be changed to be historically accurate, which will cost even more money, something that Trenholm says he doesn’t have.

In a quote to the Times Record Newspaper, Trenholm said, “The money I’m trying to get out of it is the money I’ve put into it. I’m not profiting. I’m just coming out this about even. The sale price is probably too cheap. Where can you find four acres of property on the Maine coast for $375,000? The land is worth a million dollars.”

Trenholm’s statement only angers preservationists who argue that this is just one more reason why historic property should never be Congressionally transferred. Most feel that the Squirrel Point Lighthouse Association was never a true non-profit, that a few people created it, apparently for their financial benefit. Preservationists claim, “If the Squirrel Point Lighthouse had its ownership transferred under the Maine Lights Program or the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act it is doubtful that the so-called Squirrel Point Associates would have ever been approved to own the historic light-station.”

The future of Squirrel Point Lighthouse is unknown. When reached at his home by a local newspaper asking about the Preservation Commission letter, Trenholm said he had not been to Squirrel Point Lighthouse in two years.

This story appeared in the December 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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