Monday, June 20, 2011

Takanassee, Lifesaving and Shipwrecks at the Jersey Shore

Those who come to rekindle fond memories of the Takanassee Beach Club will not be disappointed in the new exhibit opening in the West Gallery June 4 & 5. They will find beach club photos and artifacts galore. But they will discover as well another life of this small strip of Long Branch oceanfront. Shipwrecks, Life-Saving, and the Story of Takanassee features beach club memorabilia. But it also tells a fascinating tale of the treacherous nature of early sea travel, NJ’ s role in the country’s response, and the heroism of Life Saving Station #5.

The three distinctive buildings that still stand at Takanassee beach were part of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, created in 1848 in response to the alarming lose of life and property from ships wrecked off our nation’s shores—most notably along New Jersey’s coast.

NJ was the mariner’s nightmare—arguably the deadliest coast in the world. It is said that if all the ships wrecked along its expanse were laid end to end, the string of sunken hulls would stretch from Sandy Hook to Cape May. A deadly combination of shallow and shifting shoals, strong in-shore currents, heavy ship traffic, North Atlantic storms, and primitive navigational and weather forecasting tools together made the Jersey coast the “graveyard of the Atlantic.”

No surprise, then, that the appeal for help came from a NJ Congressman—William Newell (later governor). At his urging, the federal government appropriated funds to establish the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Its first station was built at Sandy Hook. Not long after, another was set up at Takanassee beach.

This first Takanassee station was a simple shed, equipped with apparatus provided by the U.S. government. For decades, it—and all stations in the Service--were manned by volunteers, much like today’s fire companies.  By the 1870s, pressure mounted for a professional Life-Saving Service—with oversight, paid and trained crews, and well maintained equipment. As part of this overhaul, a new station was built at Takanassee in 1879—and later two other structures, circa 1903. In 1915, the Life-Saving Service merged with the Revenue Marine Bureau to form the U.S. Coast Guard, and Guardsmen continued for decades to operate out of Takanassee.

Visitors to the exhibit will learn of the heroic deeds of these early life-savers. Take the tale of Annie and Charles Green, for instance. Charles, whose family had owned Takanassee beach and surrounds going back centuries, was one of the first of the Takanassee “keepers.” The bravery of his crew—and his wife—in rescuing the crew of the Adonis, run aground in a violent storm in 1859, earned the Service’s coveted Gold Medal (the first and last ever given to a keeper’s wife).

The exhibit tells the story of Takanassee in this broader context. On display are relics retrieved from local wrecks, the New Era (1854), the Adonis (1859), the Rusland (1877), and the Pliny (1882). It is a fascinating legacy. Come see for yourself.

The Museum's hours are:

Tuesdays - 1:00 to 4:00 P.M.
Wednesdays - 1:00 to 4:00 P.M.
Thursdays - 1:00 to 4:00 P.M.
Thursdays - 7:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.
Sundays - First and Second Sunday of the month 1:00 to 4:00 P.M.

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