|Courtesy of Broward County Historical Commission|
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By Jane Feehan
A swim to land after surviving a ship wreck did not guarantee seamen safety on Florida’s east coast during its early days. Human bones discovered over the years are testimony to onshore tribulations of those who managed to escape sinking ships. Florida was a wild, desolate place with sandy barrier islands that offered fresh water only to those with shovels who knew where to dig.
Survival odds climbed a notch or two in 1876 when the U.S government built five Houses of Refuge spaced 25 miles apart from the Indian River Inlet south to Cape Florida.
Patterned on the Massachusetts Humane Society’s Houses of Refuge, each Florida refuge was run by a paid keeper on a permanent basis. The keeper, paid $400 yearly, was tasked with providing food, water and shelter to the ship wrecked and to patrol coastal waters for wreck survivors.
“New River House No. 4” went up near today’s Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. In 1891 it was moved to the Bahia Mar area, site of one of the old forts (a fort marker sits there, near the base of a bridge over A1A). The first keeper of Fort Lauderdale’s House of Refuge was Washington (Wash) Jenkins. He was replaced seven years later by Edwin Ruthven Bradley.*
One of these houses still stands on Hutchinson Island in Martin County and serves as The House of Refuge Museum.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
*Bradley went on to secure a contact for mail delivery between Jupiter and Miami. As mail contractor, he shared delivery duties with Ed Hamiliton, known to us as the Barefoot Mailman who apparently drowned in the Hillsboro Inlet in 1887.
Broward Legacy, Vol 1, No. 1. Life Saving Station #4 by Eugene E. Wiley, 1974.
Weiding, Philip and Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1966.
Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Florida history, houses of refuge,history of Florida