Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2016

Mystery Image Solved


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At the bottom of page 38 in the last issue of Lighthouse Digest, we published this old post card image asking for any information that someone might have about it. We were fortunate enough to hear from Sandra Thurlow, who was able to provide a wealth of information, which we sincerely thank her for. Following is what she wrote.

This photograph was taken at the Mosquito Lagoon House of Refuge in Volusia County, Florida. It was probably staged.

Ten Houses of Refuge, unique to Florida, were built by the U.S. Life-Saving Service between 1876 and 1886. The only one remaining is Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge in Martin County.

Houses of Refuge had no life-saving crews but rather a keeper and his family were in charge. They were not expected to make rescues but were to walk the beach after storms and look for victims of shipwrecks. Their job was to give shipwreck survivors shelter, food, and clothing and help them return to civilization.

The man with the boathook is Capt. Samuel Coutant who was the Keeper of the Mosquito Lagoon House of Refuge for 22 years, from 1890 until 1912. The woman with the hat is his wife, Louisa. Both Samuel Coutant and his son, Harold, were photographers. Some of their photographs were printed as postcards.

The U.S. Life-Saving Service issued a minimum of equipment to Houses of Refuge and that is what appears in this photo. Even though keepers and their families were not expected to make rescues, at times, there was no choice. In 1899 the Coutants were forced to watch 12 men from The General Whitney drown. Louisa pulled the body of Capt. Hawthorne from the water while Capt. Coutant rescued three others who were near exhaustion.

The Coutant family provided the only known photographs of day to day life at a house of refuge. I have a duplicate of this photo from Elwin Coutant, a grandson of Samuel and Louisa. It is to appear in The U.S. Life-Saving Service Along Florida’s East Coast by Sandra Thurlow and Timothy Dring published by Arcadia Publishing this summer.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2016 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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