Kinnakeet Home: Little Kinnakeet Lifesaving Station
By RHONDA J. ROUGHTON
“And now the Storm-blast came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong;
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.”
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel T. Coleridge
powerful currents come together off the Outer Banks: the northbound
Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current flowing south from the
Artic. The warm and cold water of these two currents meet
powerfully at the area in Buxton known as The Point. This
collision of water formed the Diamond Shoals, underwater sandbars that
shift and change, creating dangerous conditions for ships. This
region is known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.
US Lifesaving Service expanded operations in 1874 to include the North
Carolina coast. Little Kinnakeet Lifesaving Station was
constructed in 1874, one of seven stations built along the NC coast
that year. The US Lifesaving Service existed for 44 years
original station was designed by Francis Ward Chandler, and built in
the Gothic/Stick style. The station was set on cedar piering and
built of pine beams and boards. It was 45 by 20 feet with two
levels. The front of the building had a sliding door entrance 11
feet wide for the boat room. At the rear of the boat room
was the mess room. On the second floor were the crew’s quarters,
a store room, and the station keeper’s room. A lookout platform
was centered on top of the gable roof with entrance via a trap
door. The interior walls were covered with vertical board and
batten (small strips of wood). Many of the older homes on the
island had walls covered in this manner. The windows had louvered
cookhouse was built in 1892 to keep the kitchen heat away from the
living quarters. It was 18 by 12 feet and had a dining
area. The old mess room was then used as a sitting room for the
land that the station was on was leased for 20 years. As time
came for the lease to expire, a decision was made that a new site be
chosen. It had become customary to build lifesaving
stations further from the ocean side to protect them from ocean
damage. A site was chosen about a quarter mile southwest of the
old location. The 14.5 acre site was purchased from local land
owner C. T. Williams.
1904, the old structure was lifted onto rails and rollers and moved
over a period of about seven days to the new site. It was then
raised onto blocks to be used as a boathouse. This boathouse was
used to store beach rescue apparatus.
new station was built in 1904. It was built in the Bungalow
style, with hipped roofs, long, protruding eaves and a verandah around
the building. It is 50 by 47 feet with two stories. The
first floor has a crew bedroom, an assembly room, an office keeper’s
room and a storage room. The top floor is an open loft with a
watch tower and the watchman’s room.
were no major changes made to the building until 1935 when indoor
plumbing was installed. In 1945, an addition was built to house a
lighting and heating plant.
lifesaving stations brought new jobs to the Outer Banks and provided
steady incomes to men who had previously been self-employed.
After the active season, the men would return home to fish their nets
until it was time to report back to their duty station.
lifesaving station had a keeper, who earned $200 a year, and a crew of
six surfmen. The work schedule for the surfmen was four months
long – December through March. They were paid $40 per month and
lived at the station during those months. If the station assisted
at a shipwreck, each of the surfmen were paid a bonus of $3.
stations did not provide adequate coverage along the NC
coastline. By 1881, there were a total of 29 stations.
Employment months expanded to September 1 through April. In 1883,
a 7th surfman was added and the crews were eventually employed year
lifesaving station was assigned a stretch of coastline to patrol for
ships in distress. During the day the watchtower was used and at
night or low-visibility days the men took shifts patrolling either on
foot or by horseback. The crews patrolled the beach on each side
of their station four times between sunset and sunrise. The closest
stations to Little Kinnakeet were Big Kinnakeet Station to the south
and Gull Shoal station to the north. While on patrol, the surfmen
carried signals. If they discovered an endangered vessel a signal
was lit to warn the vessel off or, if the ship was aground, to let the
crew know assistance was on its way.
surfmen had other duties as well. Each man had to cook one day a
week. The crew had a weekly training schedule: Monday the
equipment was inspected, Tuesday was lifeboat practice, Wednesday was
for signal training, Thursday was the beach apparatus drill, Friday
they practiced resuscitation, and Saturday they cleaned the
station. This routine was broken only by shipwreck rescues or
routine kept all Lifesaving Stations at the same level of proficiency
according to US Lifesaving Service rescue procedures. There were
two main types of rescues. The most dangerous was when the
lifesavers rowed to the wreck in surfboats. These boats were
pulled to the shore by horse and wagon and then launched directly into
the surf. If the ocean was too rough or if the vessel was close
enough to shore, they used the beach apparatus method. A small
cannon was used to fire a line to the wreck that the crew could attach
to their ship. They used the secured line to attach a breeches
buoy, a life ring with trouser legs. One person at a time climbed
in and was pulled to shore.
January 18, 1915, the Lifesaving Service combined with the Revenue
Cutter Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard. During World War I,
station crews, under the Coast Guard, went on year-round duty.
This practice continued until the station was decommissioned in
1954. At that time, it became part of the Cape Hatteras National
Kinnakeet Station can be seen on the soundside near Ramp 32. The
buildings have been stabilized, but restoration has not been completed.
letters of captains and crews attest to the fact that the lifesaving
stations and their crews saved many lives in selfless acts of
heroism. It is said that many of the original settlers of the
Outer Banks were shipwreck survivors who decided that the barrier
islands were close enough to sound and shore to satisfy their desire to
be at sea. They were reputed to be strong-willed and
independent. These traits can still be found in their offspring
as well as in many who decide to make Hatteras Island their home.
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