By James D. “Keeper James” Charlet © 2024
Sitting majestically, solitarily, invitingly – but alone – as millions of travelers land upon the famous Hatteras Island by crossing the new Marc Basnight Bridge, is a beautiful but mysteriously abandoned building.
It is, (it was), the Oregon Inlet United States Life-Saving Service Station. It is in serious trouble. It needs to be saved, to be rescued – just as it spent its life doing for others. To add to the confusion, it is very often mistaken for and misidentified as the Pea Island station.
It needs much more than just ‘rescuing’ – it requires the “4R’s: Rescue-Renovate- Rejuvenate-Repurpose!
I have a comprehensive and detailed sensible and workable plan that I have been developing since 2015.
The plan starts with a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit I have created named the “Outer Banks Coast Guard History Preservation Group.” I chose this name for a broader purpose: North Carolina has a critical U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) presence. Our sounds and ocean beaches house 58 United States Coast Guard sites – 18 from the past and 40 presently.
Every day, our Coast Guard is saving our fishermen and recreational mariners, keeping our boats safe through requirements and inspections, seizing illegal drugs, arresting maritime criminals, and maintaining thousands of navigational aids among their eleven missions. Surely, we can show our appreciation by preserving their important history as a crucial contribution to the legacy of Dare County and the great state of North Carolina.
The new nonprofit’s first, critical, and immediate mission is the 1898 Oregon Inlet Life-Saving Station (LSS) No. 16. After that, we will address more Outer Banks projects so that millions more can also learn about the incredible forgotten history of the United States Life-Saving Service.
Here is the Oregon Inlet LSS Station’s brief background, or ‘How It Got into This Mess.’
It started in 1988 when the station was decommissioned, making way for the present USCG MLB Station Oregon Inlet. A lawsuit over ownership awarded the abandoned station to the State of North Carolina. The state really didn’t know what to do with it, so it was offered to the nearest state agency – which was the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island (Manteo).
The Aquarium had big plans for it originally, and accomplished several designs and set a budget. Then, Jennette’s Pier happened instead. That is where all the state funds and plans went, which left the Life-Saving station with no future.
So, unfortunately, it remained abandoned, isolated, and vandalized. One major effort was made to address the situation: it was raised by quite a few feet, new siding and windows were added, but the interior was stripped. However, it still remained abandoned, not maintained and more vandalized than ever.
To address the situation, the Aquarium now only had two realistic options: (1) give it away, or (2) move it to Manteo where they could at least save it from further deterioration and vandalism. The latter would require an expensive move, cutting the building, and destroying a major part of Hatteras Island’s history.
Unfortunately, that spawned numerous inaccurate rumors. For one, it does not necessarily need to be moved. It could be resurrected by a nonprofit right where it is and serve many useful functions and benefit hundreds of thousands of tourists. The most common argument against leaving it where it stands is that “a hurricane will soon get it if it stays there.” Yet, it has been there since 1898. It has seen quite a few storms in all those years. Also cited is “beach erosion threatens it.” It is not only thousands of feet from the water, but the land is also actually accreting to the north.
Everyone on Hatteras Island has seen it deserted and deteriorating every time we pass going ‘up the beach.’ We all know this is another part of our island’s history in danger of being lost. Some even want to move it off our island.
Now for the great news!
This is only part of the plan – the station’s potential is a “multi-function” list:
First, it stays where it is on northern Hatteras Island.
Then it begins its services: First, a Hatteras Island Welcome Center.
Dare became a county in 1870. In 1953, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore was established here, the nation’s first. By the 1960s, it was becoming a noticeable tourist attraction. Today, it is a world-famous resort destination.
In 2022, Dare County had four Visitor Centers: Kitty Hawk (33,000 visitors), Manteo North (not recorded), Manteo South (18,000 visitors), and Hatteras Island South (3,000 visitors). Yet, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore had 2.9 million visitors, most of whom came through the Whalebone Entrance, leading to Hatteras Island, which has no welcome center.
For the uninitiated first-time visitors, after crossing the new Marc Basnight Bridge, which is an exhilarating experience in itself, they finally after all these years see a sign to tell them where they are -Hatteras Island – but there is nothing to welcome them.
Then they drive 12 miles “through the middle of nowhere” before seeing any familiar sites, so they may be easily put off or even just turn around.
The proposed Welcome Center will obviously have all the standard offerings: brochures, advice, information, suggestions, directions, maps, and restrooms. Even more importantly, because Hatteras Island is so different, this is an opportunity for Dare County to not have new visitors learn the hard way about so many things such as soft shoulders, driving on the beach, sand spurs, rip currents, and a host of other good, useful information for a fun and safe vacation. Presently, we are just throwing them to their own devices once they cross the bridge.
For the long-time repeat visitors, they may not know of state laws requiring headlights to be on with wipers; or to yield to pedestrians at designated crosswalks; or that ALL fireworks or illegal; and that so are metal detectors and now drones. And these are just a few important examples.
Even if it is not visited by tourists coming to Hatteras Island, it will still be seen by millions. It will make them wonder, ask questions, and learn.
Worth repeating is the staggering figure: It will be seen by the approximately three million visitors annually that cross the magnificent Marc Basnight Bridge as they come to visit Hatteras Island. Hundreds of thousands of them would stop at the saved and repurposed Visitor-Museum-Complex.
A detailed proposal and plan for the future Oregon Inlet Life-Saving Station Welcome Center
Public rest stop and refreshment center
This would be the first stop for quite a while and will be a welcome stop for visitors!
One-room United States Life-Saving Service and United States Coast Guard Museum
The second room of the main floor should be a small museum for the United States Life-Saving Service on the Outer Banks. It will feature all 29 Life-Saving Stations that existed on the Outer Banks. This does not nor has ever existed anywhere on the Outer Banks. Most visitors will be enthralled, since most have never heard of the Lie-Saving Service, yet many are coming to see the lighthouses and have no idea who actually went out in storms to rescue the shipwreck victims.
The current building is a two-story structure measuring 35 feet by 70 feet. That is more than sufficient room for an auditorium. Thousands of businesses, companies, non-profit organizations, and groups of all kinds could hold annual conferences and other meetings and events here. This facility makes an enormously pleasant location for these groups and will be a great source of the Oregon Inlet Station’s sustainable income for booking these events.
A Future Popular Corporate Retreats Center
Perhaps even more popular than above, hundreds of thousands of national and international groups would love to have a weekend or multi-day retreat in such a historically significant location, and in such a relaxing, refreshing, special, and beautiful place. This is certainly a fee-based option.
Annual Groups Meeting Facility
Similar to the Conference Center attractions above.
Maritime Research Facility
Thousands of national and international research organizations and universities would love to have the opportunity to spend significant time in one of the world’s most dynamic maritime environments for extended research periods. Perhaps one of them will discover how to keep our Oregon Inlet from shoaling over!
A “Watch-Cam” TV Camera Mounted in the Watch Tower
Can you imagine the popularity of such a video portal? Links would allow people from all over the world to watch the charter fishing boats going in and out of the Oregon Inlet Marina, as well as watching Coast Guard operations, the traffic on the Basnight Bridge, or watching the gulls, cormorants, and pelicans flying by. They can also watch the eddies of the currents, or just gaze at the world of water as seen from this amazing vantage point. Many will be inspired to plan a vacation here, increasing the local economy.
A Weather Station at a Strategically Placed Location
What a perfect place to observe, record, and predict the ever-changing and vitally important Outer Banks weather. All of us islanders have seen the weather change dramatically at Oregon Inlet, a junction of interesting weather patterns and anomalies.
Some hotel-like rooms, an additional rental income source
Office Spaces for Rent
There is more options, and most are self-explanatory. Even then, this list can be supplemented.
- Maritime Groups
- Oregon Inlet Fishing Center events
- Outbuildings and ancillaries
- Beach Wedding Venue – Beach weddings anywhere are special. One at the 1898 Oregon Inlet Life-Saving station is very special.
- Recreated “Connor’s Campground Store”
- Recreated shipwreck display
- Picnic tables
- Private concession, boat tours of the harbor
- Private concession, active American schooner
- Photo ops
- S. Coast Guard events
Equally important, this proposal also directly benefits the economies of Hatteras Island, Dare County, and the State of North Carolina. Click here to see our new proposal for the “Oregon Inlet Village.”
The bottom line
Listing all of the beautiful attributes of the 1898 Oregon Inlet U.S. Life-Saving Service Station No. 16. would be difficult.
Let’s start with this: It is currently celebrating two major anniversaries. 2024 marks the 150th anniversary of the first seven Life-Saving Stations built in North Carolina. The Oregon Inlet Station was built in 1898, which made 2023 its 125th anniversary.
It is one of the few Life-Saving Service stations anywhere in America still in its original location. It sits solitarily in the dunes, and is surrounded only by sky, sand, and salty water. No beach vacation rental houses, no stores or other buildings, no power lines, no roads, no signs – how utterly refreshing! It could be 1898! You could be reading Harper’s Weekly about Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and the Spanish-American War, or the latest on England’s Queen Victoria. Have you heard the rumors about Thomas Edison making a machine that can actually make motion pictures? Or you may be listening to “Down upon the Suwannee River” on his phonograph.
That is, IF it remains in its present location, which is the subject of this proposal.
If not, all of the above – one hundred percent of it – will be lost forever.
Want to be a part of this Hatteras Heroic History-making? Join our nonprofit. Watch for the details in PART II. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.