The federal government commissioned life-saving stations along the Outer Banks in North Carolina. The stations offered lifesaving services to shipwrecks and other water related accidents. As technology advanced, the need for physical locating services changed. The stations were not as necessary as before and some lost their purpose. Some of the stations were converted into museums to preserve their rich history.
The Chicamacomico life-saving station, along Highway 12 on Hatteras Island in North Carolina. The former station of the United States life-saving service and Coast Guard is now a museum. It is best remembered for a rescue on August 16 1918. The rescue involved the British tanker Mirlo that was torpedoed by a German U-Boat during World War 1.
Image by chicamacomico.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/chicamacomico-flat-1-scaled
The station has maintained its popularity among tourists for decades. Visitors to Hatteras Island often travel to the small town of Rodanthe to experience it. As a museum, Chicamacomico has most of its buildings still standing. This means it is one of the most complete life-saving sites in America. It has two stations and five outbuildings on the grounds. In the summer, the staff volunteers recreate the historic Beach Apparatus Drill. The activity shows a live rescue of a victim in a simulated shipwreck and exhibits of the historic Lyle Gun.
The region experiences ferocious gusts of wind, ocean and Southside flooding. There have been a good number of hurricanes as well. The museum has yet remained standing as proof of the rich history of lifesaving in the Outer Banks.
In 1871, the federal government commissioned 7 life stations in North Carolina. Thousands of dollars were appropriated to fund construction and staffing them. The effort was made to offer help from shore-based stations.
The Chicamacomico life-saving station was completed on December 4 1874. The original station had room for the keeper, crew, boats and a lookout. There was also a mess room where everyone had their meals. More construction of a cart shed, cook house, boat house and an oil house over the next few years created occured. This led to the complex that stands on the edge of Rodanthe today.
The British tanker rescue in 1918 is one of the best known rescues by the crew. The tanker was torpedoed by an offshore German U-Boat. It was carrying a huge amount of oil that caused it to immediately burst into flames. Chicamacomico's crew immediately travelled the 5 miles to the incident. They managed to save 42 of the 51 lives that were stranded.
“The rescue mission took 6 and a half hours. It earned each of the crew members the US Gold Life-Saving Medal and The Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor. A grateful Great Britain awarded them a Gold Medal by order of George VI” Wikipedia. This particular medal was first made in the late 1800s. Since the award is so prestigious, it has only 11 recipients. 6 of the recipients were stationed at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. The Captain at the time, Capt. John Allen Midgett Jr received a Silver Cup from the British Board of Trade.
The weekly Beach Apparatus Drill is without a doubt the most popular program of the museum. The drill is practiced each week to an audience and shows a routine that the crew had to take part in weekly. All life savers that were in service between the late 1800s and early 1900s were required to take part in it. It is a nice way for visitors to be transported back in time with contemporary US heroes.
The main building was built in 1911. It was transformed into a modern-day museum. It has a gorgeous wood interior. The museum has an assortment of relics and keepsakes from when the station was active. Most of the items in the museum were donated by the crew’s family members. This adds a sense of local pride.
Many of the other buildings on the historic site are available for touring.
The 30-minute drive from the town of Nags Head will prove fruitful for those who pay the historic site a visit. There are some notable buildings to explore.
At the front of the property you will find:
· The original and still remarkable station with a wood plank exterior (1874)
· The first cook house that was used to prepare meals for residents (1897)
· The Midgett House – that recreates island living conditions in the 1900s (1907)
· The second Cook House –connected to the main house (1911)
· Two horse stables
While at the back is
· A Drill Pole –used for Beach Apparatus Drills
The gift shop has a collection of books and souvenirs from the museum. Most of the products there show the rich oceanic history of Hatteras Island. There are staff volunteers who will answer all questions. Some may even share some of the stories associated with the station.
Employees at the station are all local volunteers. They devote their time to making the historic site experience memorable for tourists. They take care of the grounds and carry out minor maintenance duties. Staff volunteers help maintain the museum’s glory.
There are many affordable rental homes for vacationers in Rodanthe. The small town offers incredible views of the station from a distance.
1. Nags Head: The beach town has high sand dunes and incredible samples of plant and animal life. It is a great way to explore flora and fauna of the Outer Banks.
2. Roanake Island: this island was named after its inhabitants in the 16th century. It is near the town of Nags Head. The island offers fun water activities with learning opportunities at historic sites. There is also an outdoor theater as one of the main attractions in Dare County of North Carolina.
3. Kill Devil Hills: Another town in Dare County. There is a site that was before used by the Wright Brothers to test their airplanes. The site is available for touring.
4. Kitty Hawk: A beach town. It is perfect for picnics and exploration.
The historic Chicamacomico Life-Saving station is such an iconic destination. With its long and wild history, it is one of the most highly-decorated lifesaving stations. There are stories about lives saved and the historic site has well-preserved relics. The station serves as an incredible reminder of the rich American history. Visit the museum as you pass through North Carolina on your next Outer Banks trip. It has become a favorite among tourists and locals alike.
Please check out our complete list of sites and other OBX attractions in the Eastern North Carolina area here: The Historic Albemarle Trail.