Coast Guard Station Erie History
The Coast Guard in Erie began as the United States Life-Saving Service. The Life-Saving Service was a United States government agency that grew out of private and local humanitarian efforts to save the lives of shipwrecked mariners and passengers. It began in 1848 and ultimately merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the United States Coast Guard in 1915.
The United States Revenue Cutter Service was established as the Revenue Marine, and so named for over 100 years, by then Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in 1790, to serve as an armed maritime law enforcement service. The service operated under the authority of the United States Department of the Treasure until merging with the United States Life Saving Service.
The life saving station at Presque Isle was a primary life saving operation rather than a revenue cutter service. Established in 1876, pursuant to an Act of Congress two years earlier, the station's original location was moved in 1878 to the more advantageous location of the harbor's entrance at Horseshoe Pond.
The station, referred to as Presque Isle, was organized as a separate agency of the United States Department of the Treasury. William Clark was a keeper until 1877 until he drowned. He was succeeded by Andrew Jansen, who was keeper until 1915 when the Life Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service merged to become the United States Coast Guard. The Presque Isle station then became United States Coast Guard Station #236.
Prior to the merge, the Life Saving Service fell into three categories: life saving, lifeboat, and houses of refuge. Life saving stations were manned by full-time crews during the period that wrecks were most likely. This was usually from April to December; this period of operations was called the "active season." By 1900, the active season was year-round. Before 1900, there were very few recreational boaters and most assistance came from ships engaged in commerce.
Houses of refuge made up the third category of Life Saving Service units. These stations were on the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; there were no such refuged known to exist on the Great Lakes. In the event of a major shipwreck or natural disaster, survivors were dependent upon the goodwill and generosity of the local communities in the area.
The could of the Life Saving Service was the Surfmen. They would typically stand duty or recall 84 hours per week. The smallest operational specialty, they still exist in the Coast Guard to this day and are responsible for search and rescue planning, operations, and equipment. The Surfmen were, and continue to be, trusted in the most extreme weather conditions.
In 1916, the average retirement system and compensation for injured crewmen was 75% of active duty pay. An experienced Surfman's pay in 1908 was $79 per month and the newly recruited Surfman received $74 per month. A Captain, the Keeper of the Station, received $1,000 per year with an additional $0.30 per day ration money.
Lake Erie's somewhat unpredictable weather has caused it to become the originator of shipwreck lore. There have been, and will continue to be, unexpected explosions of wind and rain, which cause conditions of the lake to change rapidly due to the shallowness of Lake Erie. The Black Friday storm of 1916 serve as a reminder of the lake's unexpected fury. Erie's life saving station at Presque Isle was created in response to the increased maritime traffic and continues to this day, having formed the foundation for Erie's current Coast Guard operations.