Life-Saving Station at Kitty Hawk, 1902
LOC ID - LC-DIG-ppprs-00600 DLC, Wilbur and Orville Wright
Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington,
Legacy of Historic Heroes
the shipwrecks came casualties, but also, many were rescued.
Before the U.S. Coast Guard was formed there was the U.S. Life-Saving
Service, and before that, on the Outer Banks at any rate, it
was strictly a volunteer effort by selfless men who walked the
beaches at night and watched for distressed ships. Though the
government stepped in after 1844 with funding to provide surfboats
and some equipment, the work was still done by community volunteers.
Finally, in 1871, the U.S. Life-Saving
Service was established, and full-time paid crews manned new
Life-Saving Stations. Then 44 years later, in 1915, the U.S.
Life-Saving Service was merged with the U.S. Revenue Cutter
Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard. But in those 44 years
between 1871 to 1915, these brave men of the U.S. Life-Saving
Service rescued over 177,000 people. Not all of them were on
the Outer Banks of course, as the U.S.L.S.S. was a national
service, as is the U.S. Coast Guard. Still, their record is
nothing short of amazing, given the equipment they had at hand,
and the often horrendous conditions they had to work under.
They patrolled the beaches, sometimes on horseback, but usually
on foot, no matter what the weather. In fact, the worst possible
weather was their busiest time. Such was the nature of the work.
Blue Book says we've got to go out and it doesn't
say a damn thing about having to come back."
H. Etheridge, Keeper 1891-1909, Cape Hatteras Life-Saving
(speaking of the Regulations of the
thumbnail at left is a tiny clip from an 1879 chart showing
Life-Saving Stations from Currituck south to Oregon Inlet.
Not only is this an interesting look at the cartographer's
craft of the day, but shows much detail of the land. It
even marks a "Hotel" just north of Nags Head
Life-Saving Station. [Note that the full-length chart
is 2146x10,812 pixels (huge), file size 673Kb, even with
excess areas cropped off] Easier viewing will be via
page version. You may also download
and view the entire image at once if you wish. .
from the Historical Map & Chart Collection of NOAA
Several of the original and later Life-Saving
Station structures survive. Of those that were surplus, purchased
and moved, at least two now house popular restaurants and others
serve as residences or offices on the Outer Banks. At Cape Lookout,
the original 1887 Life-Saving Station structure was rebuilt
on its original site in 1916, just after the Life-Saving Service
and Revenue Cutter Service were merged into the newly created
U.S. Coast Guard. That structure still stands, and now serves
as a field station for the N.C. Maritime Museum's Cape Lookout
Studies. It is shown in this telephoto
view from Cape Lookout Lighthouse at left, and above right,
from Cape Lookout Point with its watch tower still standing
guard peering over the dunes.
Some did not survive the rage of the Atlantic,
as was the case of the 1883 Ocracoke Life-Saving Station on
the north end of Ocracoke at Hatteras Inlet. Its name changed
when a new station was built in Ocracoke Village in 1904. The
new station took the Ocracoke name, and the 1883 station became
the Hatteras Inlet station. But in the mid 1950's a hurricane
wiped out the 1883 structure. All that remains are the pilings
seen in the photo at left. They are visible on the crossing
on any Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry, and from the Hatteras-Ocracoke
ferry dock on the north end of Ocracoke Island. The station
was replaced by one built on Hatteras Island on the north side
of the inlet.
Little Kinnakeet Lifesaving Station, photo circa 1890's.
Right: Little Kinnakeet CG Station, circa 1934.
(Archival photos from the National Park Service.)
Little Kinnakeet Life-Saving Station north of Avon.
Little Kinnakeet Life-Saving Station still
stands on Hatteras Island. Both the 1874 and the later building
of 1904 remain. Both are shown in black and white archival photos
above on this page. The aerial
photo at right is a NOAA image of Little Kinnakeet taken
right after Hurricane Isabel. Like the better known Chicamacomico
station, it was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1954
and transferred to the care of the National Park Service at
Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Kinnakeet is located north of Avon on the west side of
NC 12, 2/10 mile north of mile marker 52. There is no
sign marking the entrance to the dirt drive which accesses
it, as is not open to the public while in the process
of being restored. The drive is not very suitable for
visitor traffic, and all buildings are inside a chain
link fence. It is obvious the Park Service is not expecting
people to come looking while restoration is underway.
These photos show all there is to see until restoration
The upper right photos shows the
1874 structure with scaffolding, and work is obviously
underway. Three views of the 1904 building are shown at
the left. The lower left image shows the stacks of materials
and a storage shed inside the fenced area. At right the
name is still visible in the faded paint below the watch
Restoration work seems to be coming along very slowly,
but visible evidence of progress could be seen in December,
2009. These photos tell the story of six years work, though
it is not known what might have been accomplished on the
interior of the structures.
Life-Saving Station in Rodanthe
restored Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station is located
4/10 mile north of the Chicamacomico water tower in Rodanthe
(at GPS coordinates N 35.59581 W 075.46657).
photo at right shows it at that time, abandoned and
derelict more than one hundred years after Congress formed
the U.S. Life-Saving Service. It was one of the first
seven Life-Saving Stations built in North Carolina, along
Kinnakeet, Nags Head, Kitty
Hawk, Bodie Island, Caffey's Inlet and Currituck Beach
(then known as Jones Hill).
restored site is now open to the public, shown in these
photos as it appears in 2004. The original 1874 station
building, and the later 1911 building with associated
structures are all intact, making it one of the few, if
not the only complete station of its era. The 1874 structure
was used for a boathouse after the 1911 station was built,
but the 1874 station is being restored to its original
"gingerbread" glory. When finished, it should
be the only one of its type in original configuration.
Restoration is being done through the
efforts of The Chicamacomico Historical Association, who took
on the task after the U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the station
in 1954 and turned it over to the National Park Service. The
1911 structure now serves as a museum, which the historical
association opened in 1982. Many hands-on activities and interpretive
sessions are regularly scheduled for visitors.
Inside the "museum" is a gift shop, but
most of the space houses nice displays, many of which are pictured
below. The second floor is full of exhibits, including a large
display of photos and information about Chicamacomico and the
life-saving service (pictured below). One of the first floor
exhibits, also shown below, displays work by the women associated
with the life-saving stations, wives and daughters of keepers,
who provided an important support role.
The stairway leading to the second floor of the "museum"
(1911 structure), and a view from the second floor.
Top & center right: Two panoramic images
showing a first floor display and a second floor display
Right: The rightmost heaviest) cannon is
a line-throwing gun, and the left two cannons are Lyle
Second floor display room and ladder leading
to the observation tower.
center: Two flare guns. The long barrel flare
gun is for "color-coded sparks" for signaling, and the
short barrel gun is for parachute flares.
Above far right: A "Faking Box" to pay out
rope line from a Lyle gun, and a Breeches Buoy.
Visitors can climb the ladder to
the observation tower of the 1911 station for a great
view of the station and the surrounding area. The tower
interior is pictured in the six photos below.
Right: Four views inside the observation tower,
including a view of the 1874 station from the tower's
Left: Upper & lower ladders to the observation
tower, and a view from the tower looking down at the ladder
through the floor hatch.
is nearing completion on the original Chicamacomico Station
building from 1874, seen in the four photos at right and
upper right. Inside are the restored surfboat used in
the famous Mirlo rescue, a rescue cart, faking
box, breeches buoy, Lyle gun, a one man rescue boat and
other equipment which brings the restoration to life,
as shown in the series of photos below.
any thumbnail for a larger view.
Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station gives a wonderful view
into the life and times of the surfmen whose hard work
saved so many lives from the watery clutches of the Graveyard
of the Atlantic. But you need to hear the stories of the
rescues to understand what sort of bravery and commitment
these gritty souls possessed. Daily life at the life-saving
stations was not easy, and the work was even harder.
Addition - October, 2009
Oregon Inlet Lifesaving Station on Pea Island at
The Oregon Inlet Lifesaving Station
has received a long overdue facelift. In the Fall/Winter
of 2008 there were signs of work being done on the seriously
deteriorating historic structure that long lanquished
in disrepair at the south end of the Herbert Bonner (Oregon
Inlet) bridge. A subsequent visit in October, 2009 found
the exterior of the structure beautifully restored to
its previous wooden-shingled glory. It was removed from
its original concrete foundation and raised by ten feet
onto pilings. This will allow the shifting sands that
threatened to swallow it to now flow under it instead
of piling up against it as had been the case for many
The paved access drive leading to the building is 5-6
feet below present "ground" level of the structure, a
consequence of these shifting sand dunes that is well
illustrated in the left
photo taken from the entrance drive level. With
the inlet's relentless shift southward and the beach's
continual march westward, the very ground the lifesaving
station sits on is in jeopardy. (Read
more on Oregon Inlet's historic southward shift here)
Though the exterior is reclaimed for now, nothing further
will be done at the present. Use plans by the North Carolina
Aquariums, to whom the site was given for administration,
are on hold. They are awaiting the final decision of the
state on what will happen with routing of the planned
replacement for the Bonner Bridge. The building may even
have to be moved, depending on the final bridge plans.
stories of rescues, and the tale of a ghost ship are next.
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Related Links -
Lifesaving Station, National Park Service
Lifesaving Station, official web site
Life-Saving Drill Team
Kinnakeet Lifesaving Station, National Park Service
Kinnakeet Coast Guard Station, U.S. Coast Guard
Island Life-Saving Service, circa 1890, U.S. Coast Guard
of Historic Life-Saving Stations, U.S. Coast Guard
site uses GPS coordinates where applicable, displayed
in red in the decimal degrees format (hddd.ddddd°).
info and conversions)