He started the operation in 1987, but Jim Walker says he “just hit 54 years old” and would like to take a long vacation and start spending more time with his family.
What Jim is selling is the 1838 historic Selkirk Lighthouse with about five acres of commercial marina/mini-resort in Pulaski, New York. If you are checking your map, that is about halfway between Watertown and Syracuse.
In November of 1986, after a visit to the area, Jim Walker fell in love with the region and was looking to buy some property — but the lighthouse was not what he initially had in mind. “It was a unique property on a unique river with a fabulous fishery and marina... in a great place and, by the way, it had a lighthouse. In fact, ‘cause the people that we bought it from were so close to the vest, we actually did not get into the building till after we closed (on the property).”
Jim’s worst fears about the interior were realized after he got into the structure following the sale. “We started working on one thing at a time... We wanted to do things right, all the way around.”
“Eventually we had people just banging on the door saying, ‘Well geez, we’d like to see it... can we stay in it?’” recalls Jim. At first he was not thrilled with the idea, but there was so much of a demand for it, he finally said ok. “If you don’t hold us to the standard of a ‘Ritz’ or contemporary city hotel, we’ll do that.”
Jim says that business has been taking off ever since. “We have had people here from easily 90 to 100 countries, we have had some absolutely fantastic experiences from people from all over the world. You’d be sitting here one night, the phone rings, woman on the other end sees an open date on the website and wants to book it... I ask her to where I should send the confirmation? Helsinki, Finland is the answer.” “Or someone will say I want all of your information... I’m making my vacation plans now, send it to Karachi, Pakistan.”
Walker says it has also been used for family reunions on the holidays like Thanksgiving where family members would gather and cook their own feast. “Engagements, weddings, anniversaries, honeymoons, practice for honeymoons (laughs), you name it, we have seen the sublime and the ridiculous.”
But now Mr. Walker feels the time has come to “pass the torch” to someone who has an understanding of and strong desire to continue the stewardship into the future. It has been an all-consuming 24/7, 365 job for him. Much like the Lightkeepers of old.
“We (have built) a good foundation (here) I think,” Jim says. In fact, he literally replaced the foundation of the old hotel nearby. He has unrealized dreams of its reopening or its use as a museum. Mr. Walker says the space is available for the right opportunity. In fact, the 1896 hotel attracted the “crème de la crème” of that time. Later, the hotel could have boasted about its full occupancy during Prohibition. Its shores were constantly buzzing with activity of the smugglers’ boats making their runs back and forth to Canada!
Jim Walker also speaks about what the informed fisherman already knows, that their location at the mouth of the Salmon River is one of the finest fisheries in North America. They have been named in several magazines like Sports Afield repeatedly over the years. “Nobody is making more waterfront, nobody is making more lighthouses, this is the Salmon River and the world knows it for its fishing.” There are also rooms available in separate buildings from the lighthouse, for the fishermen who dock at the marina and stay for just that endeavor.
The lighthouse bookings are filling up for 2003 stays and reservations are being accepted for 2004. Jim says he is available to help the new owner with the transition. He plans to stay in the area, and will pursue some of his other business ventures and continue his volunteer work.
Mr. Walker is initially announcing the sale in mostly lighthouse circles and is open to individuals and organizations alike as potential purchasers. He is not open to parceling out bits and pieces of it. “There are folks who want me to subdivide and take the lighthouse out, leave everything else, how do you do that?”
Jim has also set up a screening process, trying cut down on the hundreds of “tire kickers” with the “Oh, I might like to own a lighthouse” mentality.
Now don’t fool yourself that there isn’t any work to be done on the Selkirk Lighthouse. In addition to just yearly maintenance, there are still repairs to be done in the tower, especially the spiral staircase, which must be one of the last remaining — if not the last — original hand-cut wooden spiral staircases, covered with original ochre. Because it is in need of repair, guests do not have unrestricted access to the lantern.
It is one of only four remaining birdcage-style lanterns in existence, and reportedly it is also one of only two left that is still serviceable. It is also said to have one of the last remaining wooden lantern room decks.
Speaking of the lantern, in 1989 the (now modern) lamp was activated and is on the NOAA charts as a Class II navigation aid.
As my interview with Jim Walker was coming to an end, he shared with me a hope he has for the area: “I would love to see this... the little port that never was, become the little port that means something... that does more!”
And, he adds, as far as staying at the lighthouse... “best night’s rest you’ll get anywhere!”
This story appeared in the
July 2003 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.
All contents copyright © 1995-2023 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.