A sample page of text from the ledger.
October 17, 2011
“Important L. I. Life Saving Ledger acquired by the Southold Historical Society”
SOUTHOLD, NY. The Southold Historical Society is pleased to announce that it has acquired a very rare journal from one of the many United States Life Saving Stations that dotted the shores of Long Island. The newly acquired ledger was originally kept by the men in charge of the Ditch Plains Life Saving Station Number 4, located in Montauk. The journal will join other regional maritime artifacts at the Society’s Nautical Museum at the historic Horton Point Lighthouse.
“The acquisition of this rare item is a very special achievement for us,” commented Geoffrey K. Fleming, Director of the Society. “There are so few complete and intact journals like this one available for researchers that to come across one is almost unheard of,” he continued. The journal’s rediscovery is made even more remarkable by the fact that both the old and new Ditch Plains stations were destroyed by fire in February of 1891, and the journal was only saved by the quick actions of the men on duty.
The Ditch Plain station is believed to have been built in 1856 as an 1855-Type station. In 1886 the old station was replaced by a 1882-Type station, which was constructed next to the old building. The original position of this site is given as "three and one—half miles southwest of Montauk Light." This was later modified by adding the words "abreast of Great Pond" to the description. The Ditch Plains station remained in operation until 1954, when it was consolidated with a new station at Star Island on Lake Montauk.
The journal, which covers the period of December 1, 1873 through February 9, 1878, contains hand-written entries documenting weather conditions, surf, winds, vessels passing the station, patrols listed by name and time, wrecks and rescues performed, bodies found on the beach, coroner’s inquests held, equipment received and used, excused absences, visits by inspectors, Superintendent and others, and much more. This example has been filled out by to a great extent by Keeper Samuel F. Stratton, who served 1874 – 1878+.
One of the important aspects revealed in the journal is a rare look into the day to day operations of a station during this early period in the Life Saving Service history, as procedures and equipment are being studied and perfected. One can see that by 1877, after visits from General Superintendent Sumner I. Kimball, Captain Merriman, and others, drills were added and were performed more often, additional patrols were created, and more and new equipment was received.
During this period in time, the crew at this station (six surfmen) was in service from November 15 to April 15th each season. The keeper served for the full year. The journal includes entries documenting the rescue of a crew of six men using the Metallic Lifeboat, and the recovery of bodies from the wreck of the ship Circassian, which went to pieces opposite Bridgehampton with the loss of 28 persons, “…one of the saddest disasters in the annals of shipwrecks,” and more.
The journal itself is completely intact, with extensive entries that are quite readable. It will join the many other important holdings of the Society’s nautical museum located at Horton Pont Lighthouse, a National Register building. This winter, the Society hopes to make the ledger a centerpiece of an expanded display on the United States Life Saving Service (U.S.L.S.S.) up at the lighthouse. The journal was in the collection of Hampton Bays lifesaving enthusiast Alvin Penney before being acquired by a dealer from whom the Society purchased it.
For further information, please call (631) 765-5500 or visit the Society’s website at www.southoldhistoricalsociety.org.