Digest>Archives> July 2007

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Plymouth Gurnet Life Saving Station

By Jim Claflin


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If you read our last column, you know that we recently attended an antique show in Hartford, Connecticut, where we acquired a pair of probably the finest early cabinet photos that we have ever found on the subject. The first of these lovely 12" by 14" views was of the twin lighthouses on Plymouth’s Gurnet, a 7-mile long peninsula bordering Plymouth Bay on the north.

This second view was taken on August 30, 1889, and shows the United States Life Saving Service station near the lighthouses as the crew poses on the station boat ramp. Because of the increasing frequency of shipwrecks in the area, the newly formed Life Saving Service built the Gurnet life-saving station in the 1873 to 1874 time frame. Sometimes referred to as the Gurnett [2 t’s] Island station, it lasted until 1892 when it was replaced with a new Bibb #2-Type station, which still exists today in private hands and has been lovingly restored.

The station shown here is designated as an 1874-Type station, one of twenty five such stations built on the east coast from Maine to North Carolina between 1873 and 1877. The design combines the elements of both the Carpenter Gothic and the Stick Style of architecture. The styles were highlighted by the use of board-and-batten siding, an abundance of intricately sawn and carved wood ornamentation, wood bracketing and gables, and the use of side buttresses to provide support against strong winds.

The stations measured 19 feet wide by 43 feet long and most had the open lookout platform pictured on the roof. On the first floor was a boat-room for the station’s surfboat and beach apparatus, with a small stove-heated office - watch-room behind. The second floor contained bunks for the station crew. Note the crew in their cork life-jackets as they proudly pose beside their early surfboat.

If you would like to learn more about the architecture and equipment of the U. S. Life-Saving Service, a must read is Ralph Shanks’ and Wick York’s book The U.S. Life-Saving Service - Heroes, Rescues And Architecture Of The Early Coast Guard [1996. Petaluma, CA. Lisa Woo Shanks editor, 262p. Soft cover. $21.95.]. This is a "must read" for anyone interested in the subject - I open it almost daily for research and have found it indispensable as well as thoroughly enthralling. Coming from more than two decades of research by these highly respected maritime historians, in 272 large format pages, the authors present unforgettable stories of the surfmen and their unsurpassed bravery. Unique to this work is the authors coverage of the architecture of the stations. Using over 400 rare photos from the Library of Congress and other historic sources, the authors provide a station by station look at the architectural features that make them such a unique and unforgettable piece of our history.

Next month we will look at some rare Lighthouse Service "Bulletins".

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Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this type since the early 1990s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling (508) 792-6627. You may also contact him by email: jclaflin@lighthouseantiques.net or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net

This story appeared in the July 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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