By James D. “Keeper James” Charlet © 2024
Sitting majestically, solitarily, enticingly invitingly – but alone – as millions of travelers land upon the famous Hatteras Island by crossing the impressive new Marc Basnight Bridge, the visitor sees 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.
Much more than just ‘rescuing’ – it is 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 Coast Guard presence. Our Sounds and Ocean areas house 58 United States Coast Guard sites – 18 from the past and 40 presently – here is the list. 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, maintaining thousands of navigational aids, these few 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 No. 16. After that, we will address more OBX 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; accomplished several designs and set a budget. Then, Jennette’s Pier happened instead. That is where all the state money 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. What was incorrect was that it did NOT 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 that is “a hurricane will soon get it if it stays there.” Yet, it has been there since 1898… since 1898! It has seen quite a few storms in all those years. Also sited 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. By the Aquarium’s own logic, their Jennette’s Pier – actually IN the ocean and beachfront – should be moved to Manteo immediately!
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 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 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 (33K visitors), Manteo North (not recorded), Manteo South (18K), and Hatteras Island South (3K). 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 Bonner 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 still no one to welcome them. Then they drive 12 miles “through the middle of nowhere” before seeing any familiar things, so they may be easily put off or indeed just turn around. The PROPOSED Welcome Center will obviously have all the standard offerings: brochures, advice, information, suggestions, directions, maps and rest rooms. Even more importantly, because Hatteras Island is so different, here is an opportunity for Dare County to not have “newbies” 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 devises.
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, these providing 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.
Public rest stop and refreshment center
This would be the first stop for quite a while and will be a “welcomed” 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 never existed anywhere on the Outer Banks. Most visitors will be enthralled, since most have never heard of it, yet many are coming to see the lighthouses and had 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 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 in such a relaxing, refreshing, special, and beautiful place. This is certainly a fee-based option.
Annual Groups Meeting Facility
Similar to 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 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. And watching the eddies of the currents…or just gazing at the world of water as seen from this amazing vantage point. Many will be inspired to plan a vacation here, increasing local economies.
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 the 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; most are self-explanatory. Even then this list can be supplemented.
Oregon Inlet Fishing Center events
Out-buildings and ancillaries
Photography Concession: Beach Wedding Venue with the Keeper
- Beach weddings anywhere are special. One at the 1898 Oregon Inlet Life-Saving station is very special. One with the Keeper is SUPER special! Having words, phrases and concepts such as “life saver,” “keeper,” are powerful additions to a most significant event and can garner high-end prices to be split with the photographer and our nonprofit.
Recreated “Connor’s Campground Store”
Recreated shipwreck display
Private concession, boat tours of harbor
Private concession, active American schooner
U.S. Coast Guard events
- Regular Monday Beach Apparatus Drills during summer season.
- Regular Thursday Beach Apparatus Drills during summer season.
- Regular Monday AND Thursday Beach Apparatus Drills during summer season.
- Monthly “Full Moon” Beach Apparatus Drills during summer season.
- Off-Season Chiefs PCPO Indoctrination Drills, part of the Chiefs Call to Initiation (CCTI), Spring and Fall.
- Possible regular Surfboat Drills.
- Occasional USCG Search and Rescue (SAR) demos from Air Station Elizabeth City and MLB Station Oregon Inlet.
- Official USCG 47-foot Surfboat Training.
- Possible visits from USCG Cutter Eagle.
Equally important, this proposal also directly benefits the economies of Hatteras Island, Dare County, and the State of North Carolina.
Now is the latest great idea that benefits all even more! It is our new proposal for the “Oregon Inlet Village.” See details here.
Listing all of the beautiful attributes of the 1898 Oregon Inlet U.S. Life-Saving Service Station No. 16. Would be difficult to make a complete list.
Let’s start with this: It is currently celebrating two major anniversaries: it is one of the seven Outer Banks United States Life-Saving Service 1874 stations, its 150th anniversary. It was built in 1898, serving its 125th anniversary.
It has had two different official names; it had several locations.
It is one of the few Life-Saving Service stations anywhere in America still in its original setting: it sits solitarily in the dunes. It 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 the 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 email@example.com.
How utterly fitting, then, if we save it, for the fabled Island of Hatteras, centerpiece of the Outer Banks, awash in centuries of maritime history and culture, to have its two most prominent, seen and visited structures be renowned for one of the most noble of all causes – saving lives at sea.