Southampton Town has taken title to the former Neptune Beach Club on Dune Road in Hampton Bays, and is now hoping to restore the building, which is one of the few federal lifesaving stations in the country that still exists in its original location, and was the second lifesaving station in the country to be manned by a staff of African-Americans.
The town purchased the 2.8 acre property for $3.25 million on March 12, using money from the Community Preservation Fund, and designated the building a town landmark on Tuesday, April 8, in the hopes of making it eligible for federal and state grant money for renovation.
Southampton Town Landmarks and Historic Districts Chairperson Sally Spanburgh told the town board Tuesday that the building that currently sits on the site was the second of two lifesaving stations there.
The original building, built in 1875, was later moved and became the Summers Beach Club, which was destroyed in a winter storm in 1993. She said the second lifesaving station, which became the Neptune Beach Club, was built in 1900 and moved back from the shoreline after that same 1993 storm.
The federal lifesaving station program began in 1848 along the New Jersey and Long Island shores, to protect the crews of ships that ran aground on the approach to the then-growing port of New York.
“During a strong nor’easter, a sailing craft could be driven onto New Jersey or Long Island shores or sand bars,” Ms. Spanburgh told the town board. “Any ship stranded on sandbars usually went to pieces within a very few hours.”
She said few crew members could survive the 300-yard swim to shore in 40 degree stormwaters, and those that survived often perished to exposure before they were rescued.
The growing network of lifesaving stations was credited with aiding 28,000 vessels and saving the lives of 178,000 sailors by 1915.
The Tiana lifesaving station was closed in 1937, but reopened between 1942 and 1944, where it was staffed by a crew that guarded against enemy landings along the U.S. coastline.
It was the second lifesaving station in the country, after one on Pea Island in North Carolina, to be manned by an African-American crew, led by Cecil R. Foster. It was abandoned by the U.S. government in 1946 and became a beach club in 1949.
It remained a beach club until its doors were closed for the last time at the end of the 2013 season.
Ms. Spanburgh said the building is in good condition, and still has the distinctive roofline and dormers characteristic of lifesaving stations of the period in which it was built, though its tower was shortened during the renovation following the 1993 storm. The town plans to restore the tower to its original dimensions.
“In a community where structures are often lost to demolition, this will help Hampton Bays retain yet another element of its coastal heritage,” she said, adding that the building is already on a federal register of lifesaving stations and could easily be made eligible for state and federal grant money.
“This whole project is so exciting,” said Councilwoman Bridget Fleming. “There was a time when we wouldn’t have felt the value of this structure. This structure sits between the bay and the ocean without any obstructions in terms of view.”
“This is going to be a really special place,” she added.
“The intention is for the site to be entirely available for public access and use,” said Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. “There are all types of possibilities.”