[This blog post was written by Matthew Peek, Military Collection Archivist for the State Archives of North Carolina.]
In 1848, U.S. federal government funds were committed to limited lifesaving operations along America’s coastline. Volunteers staffed scattered facilities for over twenty years before a professional lifesaving service was created in 1871, as a unit within the U.S. Treasury’s Revenue Marine Bureau. In June 1878, the U.S. Lifesaving Service was made an independent unit of the U.S. Treasury Department. It went on to build an extraordinary history of service and heroism before becoming part of the new U.S. Coast Guard in 1915.
The town of Southern Shores was founded as a resort in 1946, and became incorporated as a municipality in 1979. This area of Dare County included portions of the Kitty Hawk Woods and Duck Woods forests. In 1878, the United States Lifesaving Service constructed and commissioned the Paul Gamiel’s Hill Lifesaving Station in the area. It was reconstructed in 1909, and was operated by the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. The Coast Guard abandoned the station in 1949, and the building burned down in the 1960s.
The following description of the operation of a lifesaving station comes from the National Park Service:
“When a new station was established, the head lifesaver, called the ‘Keeper,’ was selected first and given charge of the station. He would then seek out appropriate candidates, often from the local community, for the other lifesaving positions. These men, called ‘surfmen,’ were given a numerical ranking based on experience, which assigned them specific duties. Surfman #1, for example, was usually a veteran lifesaver and the Keeper’s second in command, while Surfman #8 was often the newest man and given more menial duties. This pecking order was essential to the station’s smooth operation. Training was, by necessity, the lifeblood of the service. Each day of the week was set aside for a particular drill. Without the proper knowledge and skills, the lifesavers would have little control over a rescue attempt and could endanger everyone involved, including themselves. A shipwreck was often a chaotic scene requiring immediate action in severe conditions. Men were better prepared to deal with the merciless ocean, raging storms, and their own fears if they were well-trained.” (http://www.nps.gov/caha/learn/historyculture/lifesaving-service.htm)
This photograph speaks to the role of North Carolina families’ military service in coastal operations and rescue services during World War I. In World War I, Coast Guard service individuals responded to distress calls from ships attacked by German submarines along the North Carolina coast. Pictured here at Paul Gamiel’s Hill Station, located between Kitty Hawk and the village of Duck, North Carolina, in 1914 are: (left to right): Capt. Tom Harris, Andrew Scarborough, John Beacham, P. D. Beals, Alfonzo Tillett, Joe Crank (the cook), Rob Sanderlin, Bannister Hines, and Marshall Nelson.
Credit line: United States Coast Guard and United States Lifesaving Service Portraits Collection, Sarah Owens Collection, Outer Banks History Center.
This blog post is one in two-week series of posts sharing the items used in the exhibit titled “The Family Traditions of Service: A Historical Tribute to Veterans.” This exhibit, on display from November 3 to November 13, 2015, at the Dare County Arts Council building in Manteo, N.C., is sponsored by the Friends of the Outer Banks History Center, the exhibit serves as a historical tribute to over 100 years of military service of North Carolina residents and their families, with particular emphasis on coastal North Carolina. The goal of the exhibit is to honor the role of North Carolina veterans and their families during peacetime and war. The items from this exhibit come from the holdings of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina and the Outer Banks History Center.