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The restored Chicamacomico Life-Saving Service Station

The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station

The U.S. Coast Guard has a rich history of military service, law enforcement, and maritime rescue.  It is currently the world’s twelfth largest naval force and enforces U.S. law in 3.4 million square miles of coastal water.  These impressive statistics make it hard to believe “The Guard” had humble beginnings connected to the Postal Service.  Yep, you read that correctly — the Postal Service!

It all began in 1790.  At the request of Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, Congress established the Revenue Marine, which was responsible for collecting customs duties in the nation’s seaports.  In 1848, the Revenue Marine had the Life-Saving Service added to its responsibilities.  Around this time, the Treasury Department realized they were paying too much to rent spaces used by government entities.  So the decision was made to fund the construction of Post Offices and other government buildings, including life saving stations along the coast.  The first stations were run primarily by volunteers with no one in charge and no one receiving proper training.  In fact, most of the early crewmen were political appointees and Postal Service employees!  The U.S. Life-Saving Service Logo

The lifesaving system managed to continue with this lack of structure and training until the 1850s when Congress appropriated more funds to pay the salaries of full-time keepers at each station and superintendents to supervise.  But keepers still had to wrangle volunteer crews to help when ships were in distress!

Things changed in 1871 when Sumner Increase Kimball, a lawyer from Maine, was appointed the chief of the Revenue Marine Division. He succeeded in gaining funds to employ crews of surfmen and build new stations.  He also drew up regulations, established crew performance standards, and set station procedures.

Sumner Kimball who became chief of the Revenue Marine Division and was responsible for professionalizing the Life-Saving Service
Sumner Kimball. Image courtesy of Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site

By 1874, Life-Saving Stations were being built in North Carolina. One of these stations was Chicamacomico, pronounced “chik-a-ma-COM-eh-co,” which is an Algonquin Indian word meaning “land of shifting sands” or “sinking sands.”  Sinking sands is an apt description because the construction process was not a smooth one!

Building was supposed to begin in 1871, but was quickly stymied. The contractor began work without proper materials, the winter weather interfered with progress, and the laborers walked off the job claiming deplorable work conditions. The original contractor even threatened the foreman with a gun, claiming he was responsible for the abandonment of the crew.

In 1874, a second contractor was hired and construction progressed more smoothly.  The station was commissioned on December 4, 1874.  Over time, violent storms damaged the original structure beyond repair, so a new station was built in 1911 and still stands today.

According to James Charlet, site manager of the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site and Museum, the station employed up to eight lifesavers and one keeper, all of whom worked six days a week and spent Sundays on call.  They endured a grueling daily regimen of drills and if a crewman wanted a day off, he had to give 30 days notice and pay for his substitute’s wages!

Typically aided by only ropes and a wooden rowboat, the rescues these men performed were heroic.  One of the most famous rescues was of the British Tanker Mirlo in 1918. The Mirlo was torpedoed by a German U-Boat off the coast of Rodanthe. Carrying a massive amount of oil, the tanker immediately caught fire.  Six Chicamacomico crew members launched their wooden boat from the beach, and paddled five miles out to where the crew was stranded. The life-saving crew made multiple trips to rescue as many sailors as they could.  After six and a half hours, the crew had saved 42 of the 51 British sailors.  As a result of this rescue, the six crew members received The Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor. This medal of valor had requirements so high that only 11 people total have ever received it.  Six of them were stationed at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station.

The restored Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
The restored Chicamacomico Station. Image courtesy of Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site


By the mid-20th century, with the development of more reliable navigational aids, helicopters, and more powerful boats, the life-saving stations had become obsolete. The Chicamacomico Station was decommissioned in 1954 and in 1959, the 1874 Station was moved closer to the 1911 Station by the National Park Service.  After that, the Station’s buildings lay abandoned for years.  But in 1974, the Chicamacomico Historical Association (CHA) was formed and attempts were made to purchase and restore the Station.  It wasn’t until 2002 that all buildings were deeded to the CHA.

The station is the largest and most complete U.S. Life-Saving Service station in the country, with every building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also one of the only original 1874 stations that is open to the public and one of the few stations with all of its original buildings intact.  

Beach Apparatus Drill at Chicamacomico Life-Saving Service Station performed by U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard performing the Beach Apparatus Drill. Image courtesy of Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site


Chicamacomico is also the only station in the country that is open as a museum, usually from April to November.  The most popular museum program is the weekly Beach Apparatus Drill performed by active members of the U.S. Coast Guard. Chicamacomico is the only life-saving station that still offers a demonstration of this drill, a routine that was required to be practiced weekly by all crewmen in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This drill serves as a reminder of the Coast Guard’s humble roots and honors the Postal Service employees, fishermen, and other volunteers who risked their lives every day.

Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

The key to attracting renters to your vacation property is to balance comfort and style, designing a retreat that people dream about living in.

Design Tips for Vacation Home Rentals

The vacation rental market has exploded in recent years.  After the economic downturn in 2008, many owners decided to rent their properties rather than sell.  Around the same time, Airbnb was established, and they now boast over two million listings worldwide!  With so many vacation home rentals entering the market, owners must design properties that stand out from the rest.

Unfortunately, many owners either don’t invest in interior design or create spaces that they would like (but may not appeal to others).  The key to attracting renters to your vacation home is to balance comfort and style.  As interior designer Mercedes Brennan argues:

“People do not want a home away from home on vacation.  Absolutely not.  What they want instead is the home they wished they had away from home.”  

In order to rise above the competition, you must provide the kind of vacation retreat that people dream about living in.  After all, vacations are precious and people want to feel pampered.

Here are the Coastal Cottage Company’s top five tips for designing vacation home rentals that will draw in vacationers:

Timeless Design

Too often, vacation home owners decorate according to their tastes and preferences.  But it’s unlikely you’ll be staying in your property very often (at least that’s the hope if you want to make a profit!).  Therefore, focus on classic, timeless design.  According to Andy Moore of Gulfcoast Property Management, “while interior design trends will come and go, your rental properties will not need remodeling for many years when you successfully start with a timeless look.”

Now, timeless does not mean boring!  Adding character and style is important.  But avoid choosing styles that are overly ornate, trendy, or offbeat.  While you may love the look of Roman columns and marble statuary, your guests may not share your vision!

Use classic and simple designs in your vacation home rentals, such as this dining room in rustic wood and cream color.
Incorporate classic and simple style, such as in this dining room. Home designed and built by the Coastal Cottage Company.

Local Design

One way to add character to a vacation home rental is to infuse local culture into the decor.  Your guests have chosen the location for a reason, so find ways to incorporate its history and atmosphere.  Shop in local stores for items that can only be found in the region, such as building materials, flowers and greenery, artwork, books on the history of the area, tasty treats, or luxurious bath products.  This is a simple but fantastic way to help guests feel like they are experiencing the local flavor without even leaving the house! 

Durable Design

With so many people coming and going, vacation home rentals can suffer a lot of wear and tear.  For beachfront properties, this is especially true as sand gets everywhere, air conditioners run constantly, and families with children often are renters.  Hardwood and tile floors are much easier to maintain than carpeting, while throw rugs can warm up a space and be tossed into the washing machine.  For countertops, quartz and granite are both sturdy and stylish.  Avoid materials that scratch easily such as soapstone and laminate.  While you don’t want your rental to feel institutional, you do want it to last without frequent repairs. 

Decorate to reflect the location of your vacation home rentals, such as this bedroom with rustic wood and green walls. Home designed and built by the Coastal Cottage Company.
Decorate to reflect the location, such as this bedroom with rustic wood and green walls. Home designed and built by the Coastal Cottage Company.

Luxurious Design

Vacations are intended to be relaxing and pampering, something that transports guests away from the mundane.  So while durability and timeless design are important, your property should look and feel like a retreat.  Focus on comfort and try to anticipate your guests’ needs.  For example, provide plenty of high quality linens, rainfall shower heads, plush rugs, and throw blankets.  Depending on your budget, consider adding unique elements that will make the property memorable like a cozy reading nook or extravagant outdoor kitchen.  If you’re on a tight budget, small details can lead to a high return on investment.  For example, install lighting dimmers, provide eco-friendly bath products, or add electrical outlets with USB ports to charge mobile devices.

Kitchen Design

Often, guests choose vacation homes over hotels for the extra amenities they provide.  One of the top five amenities that motivate guests to book a property is the kitchen.  Cooking is a fantastic way for vacationers to save money and spend time with the friends or family they’re traveling with.  So if you’re deciding where to spend your money, the kitchen is a good bet.  As interior designer Mercedes Brennan said, people want to stay in a home they wish they had, so adding a luxurious kitchen can be a good investment.  If pricey upgrades are out of the question, ensure you have provided everything guests will need to cook and enjoy a meal.  For example, provide small appliances like blenders, utensils like can openers, seating for multiple people, even cookbooks that feature local cuisine.

Provide a kitchen that has everything your guests will need, especially enough seating.
Provide a kitchen that has everything your guests will need, especially enough seating like at this fantastic counter. Home designed and built by the Coastal Cottage Company.

We hope these tips will help you design a vacation property that looks like it belongs in Condé Nast Traveller and puts you on track to get more bookings!  And if you’re interested in building a vacation home to rent (or to enjoy yourself), we’d love to chat with you!

Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

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