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2) The US Life Saving Service Station at Rockaway Point, NY

Updated: October 16, 2001
USLSS Logo USCG Station Rockaway Logo
Due to the high number of shipwrecks along the coast of New Jersey and New York, which resulted in the loss of life, ships, and cargo, life saving stations were established along the New Jersey and Long Island coasts. These stations were equipped with surf boats to rescue crewmen from ships which had beached or run aground in the shallow coastal waters.

The Rockaway Station (unknown if it was the one at Fort Tilden or the one in the town Rockaway) was established in December of 1849 by the New York Life Saving Benevolent Association (Pre-USLSS). Mr Daniel Smith of Huntington, Long Island erected 10 buildings on the shore of Long Island. Each building was provided with "one of Francis's life boats, a mortar for throwing rockets with lines attached from the shore to the wreck, also on of Shepard's box stoves, fuel, provisions, cooking utensils, etc..."(See Ref 3). This station was manned by volunteers until 1854, when the Keeper was paid $200 per year. The crew of 6 or 7 men were not paid until 1871.

Another structure on this site was built in 1855 (?), along with a total of 14 New Jersey and 13 other Long Island, New York stations. The Station Keeper of the Rockaway Point Station in 1856 was June Cheney. The U.S. Life Saving Service was later created in 1871 and General Superintendent Sumner Kimball was in charge of approximately 280 stations on the East and West Coasts plus the Great Lakes.

At the time of the 1872 reorganization of the USLSS, a new building was constructed on the site.

Isaac Skidmore was the Station Keeper at Rockaway Point from July 3, 1869 to 1876. Nathaniel Carman was appointed on January 30, 1877 and resigned from service on September 22, 1881. By 1881, the Keeper's annual salary had increased to $700. Benjamin Weston was appointed on September 14, 1881 and was dismissed from service on May 13, 1885. Daniel B. Abrams was appointed on March 8, 1885 and was still serving as of 1915.

In 1887, this building was expanded with additional construction. Another similar station was located to the east, in the town of Rockaway.

Life Boat
Life Boat at Rockaway Circa 1907 ?
Source: Postcard

Around 1912 to 1913, a "Lorain type" station building with a three story lookout tower was constructed at the same location on the beach side of Fort Tilden, in the south east corner of the post.
USLSS Station Rockaway
The "Lorain-Type" USLSS Station at Fort Tilden.
(Constructed 1912-1913) - USCG Photo

USLSS Station Rockaway
Detail showing cars in front of the USLSS Station at Fort Tilden. Can you identify these cars?
USCG Photo

USLSS Station Rockaway
The "Lorain-Type" USLSS Station at Fort Tilden.
(Constructed 1912-1913) Feb 20, 1939 - US Army Photo

USLSS Station Rockaway in 1960
The USLSS Station at Fort Tilden.
Circa 1960 - Photo: David Newland

USLSS Station Rockaway in 1960
The USLSS Station at Fort Tilden.
Circa 1960 - Photo: David Newland

USCG Station Rockaway in 1962
The USCG Station Rockaway.
Rear view - Circa 1962

USCG Station Rockaway in 2000
The USCG Station Rockaway.
Front view - Circa 2000 - Photo: David Newland

In 1915, the USLSS was merged with several other services to form the U.S. Coast Guard. The New York Sun and Herald newspaper on February 15, 1920 reported; "Some of the men at the Rockaway Stations were born on the job... Rows of tiny cottages containing womankind of the Life Savers surround both stations. Sometimes the babies came into the world with a regular doctor alongside, sometimes not... The public knows little of their work... For they have never worked for credit and their pride runs very high".
What's left today?
This USLSS building at Fort Tilden was standing until at least 1960, when it was used as a recreation center for the USCG Station Rockaway. The exact date of it's destruction is unknown, but no remains of this early life saving station exist on the beach area of Fort Tilden today. Coast Guard Station Rockaway still stands today on the bay side of Fort Tilden, on the original wedge-shaped plot of land used by the original USLSS Station. In the early 1980s, a flagpole stood alone on this site, but it has since fallen and now rests along the fence at B 169th Street. It is believed that this flagpole dates back only to 1952, according to USCG records.

Research is currently underway to add more information concerning the USLSS Station at Rockaway Point. Log books of this station dating from April 1885 to December 1941 are available for review at the National Archives in New York City. Please contact us if you can help review these records.
Sources:
1) "The US Life Saving Service, Heroes, Rescues, and Architecture of the Early Coast Guard", Ralph Shanks, Wick York, Lisa Woo Shanks. Costano Books, 1996. (See page 237)

2) "Surfboats, Rockets, and Carronades", Robert B. Bennett, USCG-USGPO, 1976.

3) "The Perils of the Port of New York", Jeanette Edwards Rattray.

For on-line information on this topic, click here to see more about the history of the USLSS:
U.S. Coast Guard, USLSS history site.

Database of Shipwrecks and Maritime
Disasters of the Rockaways


Click here for LORAN Coordinates of local wrecks
Nov 21, 1836
American Bark "Bristol" with 100 passengers and 16 crew members stranded on the Far Rockaway shoals. 84 of the Irish immigrants bound from Liverpool on Oct 16, 1836 drowned. 32 were rescued.

Feb 20, 1859
Side Wheel Steamer "Black Warrior" went aground on the Rockaway Bar in a dense fog under the charge of a harbor pilot. All hands and cargo were saved. The wreck lies in 35 feet of water off Riis Park, Rockaway.
The Black Warrior
The Black Warrior
(Mariner's Museum, Newport News, VA)

Mar 16, 1865
Schooner "Daniel C. Higgins" of New London, bound from NY to port Royal, ashore at Rockaway.

Jan 3, 1866
Schooner "Johanna" bound from Virginia to NY with a cargo of oysters wrecked at Far Rockaway.

Nov 16, 1866
German Bark "Rhineland" bound from NY to Bremen with 300 on board, anchored and cut masts during a gale. All hands were saved.

Nov 16, 1866
American Brig "Flying Scud" from Malaga, Spain to NY went ashore on Rockaway with a cargo of oranges and almonds. One life was lost.

Apr 29, 1867
Canadian Brig "Hound" of Halifax, bound from Kingston, Jamaica to NY, came ashore at Rockaway.

Jan 20, 1870
Schooner "Statesman" wrecked off Rockaway. Two lives lost.

Apr 9, 1872
Schooner "Breeze" ashore at Far Rockaway. Crew saved, cargo of oysters lost.

Jan 3, 1873
British Brig "Mic Mac" , 147 tons, bound from Cardenas to NY with a cargo of molasses wrecked off Rockaway Beach in a fog. Total loss.

Mar 12, 1875
Canadian Schooner "Amelia" of St. John, New Brunswick with a cargo of melhado and honey, bound from Matanzas to NY went ashore on Hog Island, near Rockaway and went to pieces. Crew saved.

Jan 24, 1877
Schooner "James Lawrence" with a cargo of resin a quarter mile East of the Rockaway USLSS Station. Total loss.

Oct 17, 1878
Schooner "Greenbury Willey" of Seaford, Delaware with a cargo of phosphate rock at Rockaway. Total loss.

Jan 17, 1880
Norwegian Bark "Thor" of Oster-Risoer, bound from St. Nazaire, France to NY stranded off Hog Island Shoals near Rockaway. 13 lives saved.

Jan 2, 1881
Schooner "Mary E. Turner" of Norfolk, Virginia, bound from Smithfield Va. to NY with a cargo of pine wood, one mile East of Rockaway Beach village. All hands saved.

Mar 4, 1881
Italian Bark "Ajace" of Genoa, 566 tons, bound from Antwerp to NY, went to pieces on the Rockaway Shoals and then Coney Island. 13 lives were lost in a gale and only one crewman, Pietro Sala, was saved by the Rockaway USLSS Station. The life savers could not launch their boat from the beach due to the rough seas, so they hauled their boat a half mile to the bay side of Rockaway, hoping to row around the Rockaway Point. This was also impossible due to the dense fog and rough seas.

Mar 4, 1881
Sloop "J.R. Brown" sunk at Barren Island, Rockaway Bay.

Sep 18, 1882
Coal Schooner "Copia", 135 tons, with a cargo of coal bound from NY to Rockaway, sank off Rockaway Point. Four crewman saved.

Apr 10, 1887
Schooner "R.S. Linsay" wrecked SW of Rockaway.

Jul 10, 1887
Sloop "Mystery" capsized in Jamaica Bay. 24 persons drowned.

Mar 11, 1888
Tugboat "Governor" sunk between Rockaway Point and Swash Channel.

Nov 18, 1892
NYC Scow with no cargo, two miles SW of Rockaway Point USLSS Station.

Mar 7, 1894
Sloop "Mary F. Darrua" drifted into Jamaica Bay, spars cleared away, sails dragging, master in cabin, dead.

Aug 15, 1897
Scow "Franklin", bound from Barren Island to NYC wrecked in Rockaway Inlet. Three crewman saved.

Feb 8, 1899
"Robert A. Snow" aka "Derrick Barge" with a cargo of fertilizer wrecked at Rockaway Inlet.
Apr 30, 1900
Three different Schooners, the "Kenyon", the "Evelyn"' and the "Boyle" all wrecked West of Rockaway Point.

Apr 26, 1902
Three-masted Schooner "Cornelia Soule", 306 tons, with a cargo of granite slabs bound from Maine to Philadelphia. Six persons rescued by the Rockaway USLSS Station during heavy seas and a hurricane force gale. The wreck is one mile off Rockaway Point and a quarter mile East of the "Ajace", and is a popular fishing spot known as the "Granite Wreck".

Jan 23, 1904
British Schooner "Alexa" off Rockaway Point. Total loss.

1905
Schooner "Glide" of Staten Island, NY lost at Rockaway.

Aug 1905
Schooner "Caroline Augusta" of Baldwin LI, fishing and came ashore at Neponsit, Rockaway.

Oct 21, 1913
Gas Screw "Martha J." struck by lightning in Jamaica Bay and burned. Three saved.

May 2, 1918
Schooner "Henrietta" broke up 3 miles East of Arverne, Rockaway.

Jul 19, 1918
Armored Cruiser "USS San Diego" sunk by U-156 off Fire Island, LI.

Aug 22, 1918
Motorboat "Bernadette" at Rockaway Beach. Total loss.

Jun 12, 1919
German Steamer "Graf Waldersee" rescued two boatloads of men from steamer sunk in collision 15 miles SE of Rockaway Beach.

Jul 22, 1919
Four-masted Schooner "Charles E. Dunlap" stranded off Far Rockaway. The 1,609 ton ship, with a crew of 28, had a cargo of coconuts from San Juan, Puerto Rico for NY. Total loss, all crew saved.
Charles E. Dunlap
The Charles E. Dunlap Wreck
(Photo: Louis Pearsall - 1919)



Nov 25, 1919
Motorboat "Mamie K." total loss 4 miles West of Rockaway Beach.

Feb 6, 1920
Steamer "Princess Anne" of the Old Dominion Steamship Company. Wrecked at Far Rockaway, all saved.
Princess Anne
The Princess Anne Wreck
(Photo: Louis Pearsall - 1920)


Feb 20, 1920
A 100 foot wooden wreck believed to be the British 28 gun naval vessel "Liverpool" from the Revolutionary War was uncovered by a storm on Rockaway Beach.

1924
Side Paddle Wheel Steamer "Mistletoe" burned of Rockaway Beach close to the "Black Warrior" wreck of 1859.


World War 2 Ship sinkings around New York Harbor

Jan 14, 1942
Panamanian Tanker "Norness" with Norwegian crew torpedoed by German submarine U-123 off Fire Island.

Jan 15, 1942
British Tanker "Coimbra" assigned to patrol approaches to NY harbor was torpedoed by German submarine U-123 70 miles off Sandy hook. Captain and 36 crew killed, 6 wounded.

Apr 28, 1942
Dutch freighter "Arundo" bound from NY to Alexandria, Egypt, torpedoed by German submarine U-136 15 miles South of Ambrose Lightship. Six lives lost.

Sept 22, 1942
British Patrol Boat "HMS Pentland Firth", 500 gross tons, torpedoed and sunk off Rockaway Inlet in 70 feet of water. (Does anyone have more information on this incident?)

Dec 1, 1942
Greek Freighter "Ionnis P. Goulandris" torpedoed and sunk 10 miles off Ambrose Lightship in the "Mudhole".

Jan 3, 1944
Destroyer "USS Turner", 348 foot long, 1,700 gross tons, explosion of "undetermined origin" in the Ambrose Channel at anchor. 123 enlisted and 15 officers killed (total of 138).

Sep 10, 1951
Cabin Cruiser "Idle Time" capsized off Rockaway Point. One drowned.

Dec 23, 1968
Coast Tanker "Mary A. Whalen" went aground at 10pm on the break water off Rockaway Point with a cargo of 150,000 gallons of oil and a crew of seven. The crew was saved and the ship was finally pulled off the rocks on Dec 26, 1968.

Jun 7, 1993
At approximately 2 a.m., the "Golden Venture", a ship loaded with 296 Chinese illegal aliens and 13 crew members, beached on the shore of Fort Tilden in Rockaway. 10 persons drowned in their attempts to flee the stranded ship and get to shore in the United States.
Other Wrecks in the Rockaway Area
(Dates and actual names unknown).


"Benson" Rockaway Inlet.
"Derrick Barge" Rockaway Inlet.
"Dolls Wreck" Rockaway.
"Golden Nugget" West of Rockaway Inlet.
"Louie's Pier" wreck off Rockaway Point.
"Nervous" Rockaway.
"Rockaway Steamer" in bay off Floyd Bennett Field.
"S.J. Lindsay" Schooner lost of Rockaway Shoals.
"Tibor" on Rockaway Beach. In 1973, one could walk around the bow at a very low tide.

Sources:
"Perils of the Port of New York, Maritime Disasters from Sandy Hook to Execution Rocks", Jeannette Edwards Rattray, Dodd, Mead & Company, NY, 1973.
"Operation Drumbeat", Michael Gannon, Harper Collins, 1990.

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