By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
The U.S. Coast Guard first took its name 100 years ago in January of 1915 when the Revenue Cutter Service was merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service. The Revenue Cutter Service was founded in 1790 as the Revenue Marine, and the U.S. Life-Saving Service had been founded in 1878. This makes 2015 the 225th anniversary of what was the beginnings of the U.S. Coast Guard.
In 1939, the Coast Guard absorbed the Lighthouse Service which had been founded in 1789. In 1946, the Coast Guard absorbed the Maritime Service which had roots back to the Steamboat Inspection Service, formed in 1838. What a history the Coast Guard has!
In 2007, Joann and I took a trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan and visited the historic town of Glen Haven. One of the historic areas of Glen Haven is the Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station, which was built in 1901. Its purpose was to save the lives of passengers and crews of ships in distress in the Manitou Passage.
There were 60 such stations along the Great Lakes and many more along the Atlantic Coast. The first keeper of the Sleeping Bear Point station was Captain William Walker of Grand Haven. He brought along a six man crew and his family.
The location of the Sleeping Bear Point Life-Saving Station was more exposed to wind and waves than any other station on the Great Lakes, which made it difficult to launch the rescue boats. In December of 1914, about 20 acres of land at Sleeping Bear Point slumped into Lake Michigan. The same thing happened again in 1971. These events changed the shoreline and made it even more difficult to launch the rescue boats, but the biggest problem was drifting sand. The sand threatened to bury the Life Saving Station buildings.
In 1931, the station and other buildings were moved east to their present location. A system of rollers, track, and cables was constructed, and horses were used to pull the buildings over them to the present location. After this move, the station became an “eyes and ears” operation. This meant that they patrolled the shore and relayed communications but rescues were left to a motorized boat stationed at South Manitou. The station closed in May of 1944.
Today you can visit the Maritime Museum to see how the captain and his crew lived, and learn about the rescue boats and equipment that was used.
If you visit Sleeping Bear Dunes, make a side-trip to Glen Haven to see the historic buildings.
And a big thank you to all of the current and past Coast Guard members for your service to our country during times of peace and war.