United States Coast Guard Station
Written by:Sue Jacobs Excell
My feelings of connection and fascination with North Carolina may seem a little strange since I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, on November 15, 1942, and have lived in the Finger Lakes Region of Central New York State since I was 10 weeks old. The connections, as I am finding out, go many generations back on my motherís side of the family. My mother, Parthenia F. Forehand, was the youngest of eleven children of Benjamin F. Forehand , Lockmaster at South Mills, NC Mr. Forehand worked on the Dismal Swamp Canal at the old Culpepper Locks three miles from South Mills in 1867 and later at the South Mills Locks until his retirement at the age of 81 in 1943. Mr. Forehand was the third of four generations to work on the Dismal Swamp Canal and locks going back to the canalís construction between 1793 and 1814.
My father was Joseph W. Jacobs who grew up on a farm just outside of South Mills. My father began a career in government service in November 1928 with the U. S. Shipping Board until May 1932 as a fireman on a seagoing tug with the Idle Fleet in James River at Lee Hall Virginia. From January 1935 until March 1940 he served with the Department or Commerce as a fireman, oiler and deck engineer aboard ships that tended and replaced buoys and supplied light ships along the coast. He always referred to this time as the old "Light House Service" which he said was the original "Coast Guard". During this time he worked with his brother-in-law, Philip J. Walker. In 1939 the changes took place and the U.S. Coast Guard was officially formed and anyone working for the Dept. of Commerce either had to enlist in the Coast Guard or leave the service.
My father made the choice to leave and transferred to Nansemond Ordnance (Pig Point), Portsmouth, Virginia, and started as an explosive operator in March of 1940. He worked up to be a Foreman of Explosive Operators and then in November of 1942 (the day after I was born) he transferred to the Seneca Ordnance Depot in Romulus, New York. When I was 10 weeks old my mother made the long trip by train from Portsmouth to Waterloo, NY, with me in her arms and my older brother, Ben, who was four years old hanging on to her skirt for dear life. She often commented that times were different then and she could not have made the trip alone if it were not the help and kindness of the many enlisted men that were traveling because of World War II. They would offer to hold the baby or carry luggage all along the trip.
That explains how my southern roots got transplanted to New York State and here they have stayed (even though the older I get the more I hate snow and cold weather).
Mr. Walker (who was married to my motherís older sister, Kate), however, chose to enlist in the Coast Guard and became the Station Master in Washington , North Carolina. This is the real point of my narrative, because of my Uncle Philipís being located there, I have many fond memories of visits to the Coast Guard Station in Washington. I recently posted a notice on your community bulletin board and was saddened to learn that the station I remembered and loved is gone and there seems to be few memories of it ever having existed. I am in hopes that by sharing what little I know about the station will cause others to remember things and share them as well.
My earliest memories are strictly from the old photos I found in the family album, which of course, like most albums did not include the names of the people in the picture or the date it was taken. The earliest ones appear to be taken when I was very small, maybe two years old, which would make the pictures about 1944 or 1945. Since the Coast Guard started in 1939, I think the station in Washington must have become active about the same time. I can only guess, from conversations with my brother, that Uncle Philip retired sometime between 1950 and 1955 and left Washington to make his retirement home in Portsmouth, VA.
My brother being four years older has a little better memory of the station than I do. He remembers that somewhere near the station during World War II there was a place called a "cotton gin" and that he believes that German prisoners of war were put to work there. One of our family folk tales is that my brother "captured" an escaped German prisoner on the station grounds with his wooden rifle and held him until the adults could get there. I have a feeling the "prisoner" had compassion for the small boy and just waited to be taken back in custody.
click on picture for details.
Our visits were all too brief and usually consisted of a week or two during summer vacations. So, over the period of ten years or so, I really didnít spend much time at the station. About all I remember of the interior of the house is a large, open, light colored living room with lighted finished, highly polished hard wood floors and in one corner Uncle Philipís large wooden desk (I think it was a roll top desk) with an old brass desk lamp that my brother inherited and still has on his desk. Upstairs were many guest rooms and a bathroom with a large, old fashioned claw footed bath tub (that I spent a lot of time playing with toys in). If I remember correctly the stairs were a little unusual and curved slightly as they went upwards. The back porch was screened in and was long and narrow and in hot weather it served as a substitute dinning room. A long table was set up and was completely covered with fried chicken (usually from Aunt Kateís small flock), fresh fish, or country ham and lots of fresh vegetables and fruit and usually a home made cake or two. The front porch was also screened and may have had a porch swing, at any rate many a summer evening was spent visiting in the cool night air, with the adults exchanging family news and events.
The most of my personal memories are of playing for hours in the summer sun out in the yard and sheds that comprised the station grounds. I can remember an old row boat that was stored in one of the sheds near the river edge. That was the most amazing little boat. It was anything from a pirate ship to the "Queen Mary". I remember playing up and down the long cement drive that descended from the street level to the court yard (usually rolling toys or myself down the incline). On one occasion, there was an actual Coast Guard Cutter docked at the station replenishing its supplies. It had many brightly colored, triangular flags flying from its rigging. My brother, being older, was taken on board and given a guided tour and was especially impressed with the galley and the meal that was being prepared -- a large roast.
The other thing that stands out in my memories is the draw bridge near the station. I understand that the bridge has now been replaced with a newer bridge. The one I remember had cement sides that resembled parapets and a black top road on each side of the center section. The center section was a draw bridge that had a metal beam structure over that section with a metal mesh type floor. The center section had safety gates on either side that lowered when the center of the bridge was raised to allow tall ships passage on the river. The most amazing thing about the bridge was the bridge keeperís residence, which was a full sized house where, I believe, he and his family lived. I think the bridgekeeperís family may have been named "Taylor" and it was either his son or nephew that used to come over and play with my brother. This house was built on a large wooden plat form, supported on large wooden pilings (like a large commercial fishing pier), and was at the same height as the bridge and directly adjacent to the bridge.
I understand that the old station was torn down sometime in the sixties and that the only remaining things from the old station are the old cement driveway and court yard area that now leads to a seafood restaurant on the riverís edge and the white rail fence that lined the side walk. The old bridge keeperís residence is also gone. My time spent there was brief and I am looking back over 45 years. If any one can tell me anything more about either Mr. & Mrs. Philip (Kate) Walker, the inside of the residence or the Coast Guard Station from roughly 1942 until 1955, I would appreciate hearing from you.
Sue Jacobs Excell
Sent: May 04, 2001
Subject: MYSTERY BUILDING COAST GUARD YARD WASHINGTON, N.C.
MY NAME IS REX WHEATLEY. I WAS BORN IN WASHINGTON IN 1942 AND GREW UP THERE. MY GRANDFATHER, RAYMOND B. WHEATLEY. HE KNEW ALL THE FOLKS AT THE "BUOY YARD", AS HE CALLED IT. I SPENT MANY HOURS THERE AS I TAGGED ALONG WITH HIM WHILE HE MADE OFFICIAL STOPS AND FRIENDLY VISITS, AS I WAS GROWING UP IN WASHINGTON WE EVEN WERE TREATED TO A RIDE ON THE BUOY TENDER(?) TO BELHAVEN AND BACK ONE DAY (GRANDFATHER AND I). THE MEN ON THE SHIP GAVE ME A WHITE CAP AND ON THE CAP THEY WROTE,"JR. COASTGUARDSMAN 1ST CLASS) I HAD THE CAP FOR MANY YEARS UNTIL MY MOTHER THREW IT OUT WITH SOME OF MY OLD CLOTHES WHEN I WENT OFF TO COLLEGE. IT BROKE MY HEART..
THE BUILDING YOU REFERRED TO IN THE BACKGROUND OF YOUR PHOTOS WAS THE OFFICE FOR JOHN HAVENS MOSS COAL COMPANY. DIRECTLY TO THE LEFT OF THE BUILDING (FACING FROM THE STREET) WAS THE ENTRANCE TO THE COAL YARD AND THE ENTRANCE TO THE WAREHOUSE ON THE RIVER COMBINED WITH THE COTTON GIN.(THE LARGE MULTISTORY BUILDING ON THE RIVER)THEY PILED COAL ALONG A WALL TO THE LEFT OF THE ENTRANCE AND IT WAS ALL STILL THERE WHEN I WAS 7 OR 8. THEY DEMOLISHED THE OFFICE WHEN I WAS ABOUT 12.
I HOPE THIS HELPS.
REX H. WHEATLEY, JR
RALEIGH, N.C. 27612
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