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INSIDE ACCESS: Making a home on the James River's Middle Ground Lighthouse

We have plenty of waterfront property in Hampton Roads, but what if you could only get to your house by boat?

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WVEC) — A day on the water with Bob and Joan Gonsoulin is so much more than just a boat ride.

“I grew up at Willoughby and I used to fish around this,” said Bob.

“This” is the Middle Ground Lighthouse, a 50-foot-tall landmark jutting out of the James River, about one mile east of the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel.

“It’s just a getaway," Bob surmised. "That’s all it is.”

With no neighbors, no yard to maintain... not even a zip code, this is one of the most unique getaways you’ll ever see.

“Never imagined we’d end up with something like this, but it’s been fun,” Bob said, looking out on the water from the main deck.

“We were lucky enough to get it,” added Joan.

In 2005, the Coast Guard put several area lighthouses up for auction because they could no longer care for them. The Gonsoulins, along with Joan’s sister and brother-in-law purchased the Middle Ground Light with a final bid of $31,000.

The light was still going, but the house hadn’t had a full-time keeper since the 1950s, so it was in bad shape. A third of the decking was gone, and seagulls had taken up roost and created quite the mess.

“We couldn’t tell if there were hardwood floors or not.”

With the help of extended family and friends, they were able to restore the brilliance to this Hampton Roads gem.

“My sister and my dad made all the benches that curve to fit the lighthouse,” said Joan, pointing out a few of the custom touches that allow for a little bit more room.

Perhaps the most fascinating operations can be found in the cellar, about nine feet above the water line.

PHOTOS: Middle Ground Lighthouse

A standalone, Coast Guard-approved septic system is about the size of a 12-pack of beer. According to Bob, it “pulverizes the waste” and sterilizes it so they can send it overboard without harming the environment.

Just feet away, 36 large batteries receive a charge from solar panels on the roof that send power through an inverter to provide household power. A cistern in the floor collects rainwater that is used for the outdoor shower, bathroom, and kitchen.

Upstairs is a single bedroom, perfectly decorated, and full of character. A porthole room, complete with a mounted TV is above that.

“We had to get the TV very early on. My dad would not come out here to work unless he could watch the Redskins game on Sundays,” Joan said. These days, it mostly stays off because there is simply too much to enjoy. “We stay out on the deck, get to see the sunrises and sunsets.”

For the best view, head up to the lantern room for a breathtaking 360-degree scene where you’ll also find -- you guessed it -- the light.

“It’s an LED light... looks like a little spaceship or something that’s sitting there,” Bob said.

For years the Gonsoulins have enjoyed sharing their little treasure with everyone they can, despite its watery location.

“We figure we’ve had over 2,000 people come out to the lighthouse in the time we’ve owned it," Bob said. "If people come by, we try our best to invite them on, but we make a special effort if they’ve got any young kids with them on the boat ‘cause they have a blast."

For those lucky enough to visit, the watch level, directly below the lantern room boasts hundreds of notes and signatures.

“When we were refurbishing that we actually cleaned it up, painted the room and anyone that gets to visit we let them sign their name,” Joan explained.

Thanks to a lot of hard work, this little-known piece of Hampton Roads has never shined brighter.

“It’s a family adventure," Joan said, with Bob adding, "That’s the best way to put it, I think.”

To find out more about the story behind the Middle Ground Lighthouse and before and after photos, visit: www.middlegroundlight.com

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