Historic New Jersey life station on the block

From Ocean Navigator #132
September/October 2003
Between 1886 and the 1940s, a crew of brawny men from the U.S. Life-Saving Service were stationed at Ocean City, N.J., living in a beachfront home that featured a full collection of emergency equipment for rescuing people in distress: breeches buoys, miles of line, ground tackle and lifeboats. Decommissioned since the end of World War II, the home is now threatened by developers who want to raze the structure and erect a clutch of high-rent duplex buildings. But not if the SOS (Saving Our Station) Coalition can help it.

The U.S. Lifesaving Station at Ocean City, N.J., which a historic preservation society maintains is an integral part of this country’s cultural heritage, is threatened by development. When in use from the 1880s to the 1940s, the house was situated on the beach and was used to launch numerous rescues to stranded ships by surfboat and breeches buoy.
   Image Credit: SOS Coalition

“This is such an important piece of American history; these stations were a vital component to the protection of seagoing commerce,” said Charles London, an SOS board member. “Ocean City has gone through an identity crisis in the past decade. Historic homes have been torn down in favor of more profitable duplexes and condos. This is a cultural landmark for the entire East Coast.”

The home, located on the corner of Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue, is now owned by a developer. London and the SOS Coalition have stalled demolition plans by invoking an Ocean City ordinance that requires would-be developers to offer historic homes for sale at fair-market value before tearing them down. The Coalition argues that the developer’s price was far too high, and they are now awaiting a judge’s opinion on their appeal to assess the building’s true fair-market value. The Coalition hopes to purchase the lifesaving station with public funds and restore it to a museum.

Image Credit: SOS Coalition

Today, due to shifting sands over the last 100 years, the house, pictured below, is situated one block from the beach.

The station gained national attention in 1901 when the 329-foot, four-masted barque Sindia was driven ashore in a December gale off Ocean City. The barque, operated under command of Capt. Allan MacKenzie, was delivering a load of silk, camphor and porcelain from China to New York, just in time for Christmas, when it was overwhelmed by the storm, just a day’s sail from its intended port. Lifesaving crews from two Ocean City stations were dispatched with breeches buoys and surfboats, successfully rescuing Sindia’s 33 crew. The ship was a total loss, and its hull remains buried in the sands off Ocean City.

By Ocean Navigator