[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 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)
Caffey’s Inlet derived its name from George Caffee, who in 1788 purchased a hundred acres of land north of the present village of Duck in Dare County. Not long after the purchase, a small inlet cut through his property. This inlet was known as Caffee’s Inlet at the time (also as Providence Inlet). The site of the Caffey’s Inlet Station was deeded to the U.S. Treasury Department by Hodges Gallup of Dare County in 1874. After falling into disrepair in the late 1890s, a new station at that location was constructed. Following the reorganization of the Lifesaving Service into the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915, Caffey’s Inlet Station continued to serve as a valuable operation for shipping along coastal North Carolina. The station remained functioning throughout World War I and the 1920s. By 1939, the number of shipwrecks and vessels in distress in the station’s region had decreased, and the station was no longer needed. The Coast Guard abandoned Caffey’s Inlet Station in the late 1950s.
Pictured here at Caffey’s Inlet Station in the early 1930s are: (left to right) [station] keeper, Truxton Midgett, Aubrey Harris, Walter Beacham, Doc Fulcher, and Melvin Tillet.
Credit line: United States Coast Guard and United States Lifesaving Service Portraits Collection, formerly displayed in the Keeper’s Galley Restaurant, 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.