The other day, Bruce and I visited the The House of Refuge Museum which sits directly on the Atlantic Ocean here in Stuart. The area that we are in is referred to as the Treasure Coast, named after a Spanish Treasure Fleet lost in a 1715 hurricane (more on that in a future post I think).
Jim, the "Keeper" of The House of Refuge, gave us a thorough summary of its history and role over the decades. Established in 1876, the Stuart house was one of ten houses of refuge established up and down the Florida coast. Jim explained that at that time, according to the census, Florida had approximately 200 non-native inhabitants. What a difference 137 years make - the roads today are packed! Since nautical commerce was a main means of merchandizing at that time, ship wrecks - particularly along Florida's shores, were common. For sailors lucky enough to make it to shore, they were immediately faced with survival. The ten houses were set up at 25 mile increments as a means to help the shipwrecked sailors till they were able to catch a passing ship to return home. The house in Stuart is the only one that remains, and none of them served in the ship-wrecked capacity since 1945. I will intersperse the photos with some of the museum's website information.
"The history of the House of Refuge dates to 1876, when the U.S. Life-Saving Service, under the direction of Sumner Kimball, constructed ten “houses of refuge,” or life-saving stations, along Florida’s Atlantic Coast. These houses were staffed by “keepers,” who, with their families, led solitary lives in order to find, rescue, and minister to those who fell victim to Florida’s treacherous reefs and shoals. Prior to construction of these houses, many shipwreck victims made it to the isolated shore and then perished of starvation and thirst. As part of their duties, the keeper and his family walked along the shores as far as possible in search of shipwreck victims." http://www.houseofrefugefl.org/house-of-refuge-at-gilberts-bar-museum.htm
"In 1942, when German U-Boats torpedoed freighters along the Treasure Coast, a lookout tower and additional buildings were constructed on the property. In 1945 the U.S. government decommissioned House of Refuge operations, and the house sat empty until 1953, when Martin County purchased it and its 16-acre grounds for $168. In 1955 the Martin County Historical Society was formed to protect the house and present it as a museum."
Located approximately 100 yards off of the limestone point in the picture above lies the wreck of the Georges Valentine. There is quite a bit of history about this wreck, and I'll refer you to the museum's information rather than trying to write it all here! It is now one of Florida's 11 Underwater Archeological Preserves.
I happen to love this kind of thing - so it was an afternoon well spent. Thanks to Jim and our tour guide - whose name I unfortunately did not get!