The upcoming 15oth anniversary of the U.S. Life-Saving Service in North Carolina has presented an opportunity for the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station in Rodanthe to undertake a big endeavor that has been in the works for years – a restoration of the original 1874 station.
The Chicamacomico Historic Site and Museum is a collection of historic structures. While the 1911 station serves as the primary museum and visitors center, the squat 1874 building located close to the ocean is a landmark in its own right. It was the first of seven life-saving stations that was built in 1874, and is one of the few remaining 1874 stations that is open to the public. In addition, it serves as the launching point for the Chicamacomico Station’s weekly Beach Apparatus Drill – a historic reenactment performed by local volunteers that can’t be found anywhere else in the country.
“The renovation is something that has needed to be done for a long time,” said Larry Grubbs, President of the Chicamacomico Board of Directors. “It has been on our radar, and we’re using the 150th anniversary celebration as a seed to start the project.”
The 150th anniversary is expected to be a year-long celebration throughout the Outer Banks, which will culminate with a series of events in October 2024 – which is when the Chicamacomico Station was officially completed.
The details of the celebration to come will be outlined at Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station’s Open House event on Friday, November 24, from 2-5 p.m., where Board of Director members, staff, and volunteers will be on-site to answer questions, and connect with the Hatteras Island community on how to best showcase this important chapter of national history.
But the restoration of the 1874 station will start well before the October 2024 celebration, with the first phase of the project expected to be completed by the end of the summer. Working with contractor and historic preservationist Christian Thompson, as well as multiple agencies and experts including the National Park Service, a plan for the first wave of the restoration is already in place, and is ready to begin.
“We looked at what needed to be done first, and what we could complete before October 2024,” said Grubbs. “So, phase one is the oceanside of the building, which is the most vulnerable, and which can be completed by August.”
The last time any major restoration work was done at the 1874 station was in the 1990s, which was performed out of necessity, and not with an eye for maintaining the building’s historic integrity,
“The work that was done back in the 1990s was not true to the historic methods and materials, so this is really a true restoration – not a renovation,” said Grubbs. “It will be put back together with period materials, and through period techniques, so that it will be historically accurate to how it looked like in the 1870s.”
Consulting decades of photos and historic records, and examining similar sites like the 1874 Little Kinnakeet Station just north of Avon, a punch list was created to recreate the timber frames, gables, window trims, and other fixtures that line the east side of the building.
“This is the first important step in achieving the goal of bringing this landmark site to a fully restored structure,” stated Thompson in a proposal for the upcoming work. “[The] extensive research, site visits, and analysis provide a solid foundation for a successful restoration project that respects the station’s historical significance.”
The estimated cost for this initial phase is $158,477.00, and while a good amount of this cost is covered thanks to a grant of $115,000 from the Dare County Tourism Board, more funds will be needed to complete both this early work, and the subsequent phases to come.
“We will be looking to fund phase two by next year,” said John Griffin, Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Executive Director. “Thankfully the work in the 1990s kept it in a safe condition, and we were able to keep [the station] open. But the 90s work was a stopgap.”
The next phase entails some major additions that will bolster the accessibility as well as the historical significance of the site.
For one thing, the second phase entails installing a lookout tower, which was an original feature of the station, but was lost in centuries of storms and inclement weather. “We have photos of what it looked like from stations of that era, but no one has a lookout tower, because it was outside and exposed to the elements,” said Griffin. “If we put the tower back on there, it would be the only 1874 station that has one.”
In addition, a large observation deck would be added between the original 1892 cookhouse and the 1874 station, which would allow everyone to access the site. “If we are able to do everything we hope to do, it will also be wheelchair accessible,” said Grubbs.
There’s not an estimate yet for the long-term cost of the project, and stakeholders are focusing on the immediate work to be done before the October 2024 celebration rolls around.
But finding the funds for all phases of the full restoration – which could easily approach a million dollars – is quietly looming, and will become a larger concern in the months and years to come.
“Once phase one is done, we’ll be in the thick of the 150th celebration, so hopefully we can use the publicity of the 150th Anniversary to garner support for the rest of the project,” said Grubbs. “We’ll be looking to fund phase two by next year.”
“Our plans are ambitious,” said Griffin. “But we believe in the importance of our mission, and we are confident that the [community] will feel the same.”
How you can help
- Donations to the Chicamacomico Historical Association can be made online via the organization’s website. To the extent allowed by law, a donation/membership to the 501(c)(3) is tax deductible.
- If you wish to become a Sponsor, please contact Chicamacomico Historical Association by phone at (252) 987-1552 or at firstname.lastname@example.org so that one of the officers can guide you through the process.
- The details of the 150th Anniversary Celebration will be outlined at Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station’s Open House event on Friday, November 24, from 2-5 p.m. During this annual event, Chicamacomico Board of Director members, staff, and volunteers will be on-site to answer questions, and to gather information on how residents and visitors of Hatteras Island can best help present this important chapter of national history.
- Folks who are unable to attend the November 24 event, but who wish to be involved, can reach out to Chicamacomico for an information packet to look over at their convenience. Inquiries on how to volunteer can also be emailed to email@example.com.
- For more information on hours of operation and special events at the site, visit https://chicamacomico.org/.