The Outer Cape has long been admired for its bluffs and spectacular surf. Our rugged coastline has also been, not surprisingly, legendary as "Graveyard of the Atlantic". During the late 19th century thirteen life-saving stations were built on Cape Cod to respond to frequent shipwrecks, and they served their purpose well. Over time better maps, stronger ships, advanced warning systems and the construction of the Cape Cod Canal in 1914 reduced the number of ship wrecks.
Old Harbor Life-Saving Station is one of the original thirteen stations and was constructed in Chatham. It was decomissioned by the US Coast Guard in 1944 and then was privately owned until Cape Cod National Seashore purchased it in 1974. In 1977 the station was in jeopardy of falling into the ocean. The National Park Service placed it on a barge and moved it from Chatham to its current location along Peaked Hill Bars in Provincetown. Under the protection of the Cape Cod National Seashore, Old Harbor has been revived and now welcomes visitors from all points on the compass.
Each summer on Thursday evenings during July and August, Seashore rangers, portraying the station keeper and surf men circa 1902, present a unique Beach Apparatus Drill at Old Harbor. This is a dramatic portrayal of the rescue drill that was performed regularly by the men of the U.S. Lifesaving Service back at the turn of the 20th century. Thousands of summer visitors enjoy watching this event annually, including the live firing of a Lyle Gun. This one-of-its-kind drill presented to full 1902 standards at the only completely furnished historical life-saving station in the U.S. brings to life an important aspect of maritime history that occurred along America's Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
After the National Park Service completed a magnificent $489,000 restoration of Old Harbor's outer shell and many interior features in 2009, the Friends began a two-year capital campaign to raise funds to return the station to its 1900 appearance by purchasing or accurately reproducing furnishings — from cook stoves to rain slickers — from bunk beds to hand-crafted chairs for the crew's quarters. The culmination of the refurnishing project occurred in spring 2012 with the arrival of the specially commissioned replica of a surf boat wagon used to haul the surf boat to the water's edge during rescue operations. This authentic 22-foot wagon was built by the North Carolina Maritime Museum, and is even equipped with attachable skis in case of heavy snow!
The campaign is now essentially complete. Friends raised $120,000 due to the generosity of its members and other donors. We also received many in-kind donations of artifacts of the era. If you have not yet seen the transformation at Old Harbor we encourage you to visit — walk back in time to experience just how the surf men lived. Old Harbor is the only historical life-saving station of its type in the U.S. that is completely refurnished, bringing to life this remarkable era of American maritime history.