It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but 12 years after being purchased by the Borough of Manasquan, New Jersey, the Squan Beach Lifesaving Station is getting closer to being rescued.
Beginning in 1848 the newly formed U.S. Lifesaving Service, a precursor to the Coast Guard, began constructing lifesaving stations along the East Coast, West Coast, and Great Lakes to house volunteers, and later, paid employees, along with boats and equipment to aid in the rescue of seamen from sinking vessels. The 1902 Duluth-style structure -- at the time, one of 41 in New Jersey and hundreds nationwide -- represents the third generation of Lifesaving Stations on Squan Beach.
In 1915, the Lifesaving Service became part of the newly formed U.S. Coast Guard. As navigation systems, maritime engineering, and technology improved throughout the 20th century, the beach-launched skiffs of the Lifesaving Service were replaced with long-range Coast Guard vessels and the station transitioned into a Coast Guard communications hub.
The structure was decommissioned from service in 1996 and remained vacant until 2000 when efforts by local preservationists and over 2,000 signatures on a petition to save the structure prompted the Borough of Manasquan to purchase it for $1 and set a bond to raise an initial $300,000 for its restoration.
Efforts by the Squan Beach Lifesaving Station Preservation Committee ginned up additional funding for the project, including a $450,000 matching grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust.
Restoration work began in December of 2006 with the removal of asbestos. Since then, efforts have focused on the first floor and included reviving the original paint schemes, refurbishing the hardwood floors, and replacing the windows.
The floor of the boat room was also raised and leveled to match the rest of the house and its bay doors were either restored or replaced. Finally, cedar shakes were installed on the exterior.
Still, there is plenty of work left to be done. The next step in the process is the removal of the lead-based paint that covers the porches and trim of the entire structure. After that, the roof is in dire need of replacement and the second floor remains gutted.
In the meantime, the community is making use of the structure as a community meeting place and office for the Manasquan Borough historian. The structure also houses a small museum demonstrating the area’s connection with the sea and displaying photos, prints, and objects recovered from local waters by divers. Plans are in the works to expand the museum to include a tribute to the Coast Guard and Lifesaving Service veterans who were stationed there.
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David Robert Weible is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He came to DC from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.