Lifesaving Landmark at the Beach

Where can you find the best volunteer lifeguards in the world? Just go to Jacksonville Beach and look for the iconic white tower (a.k.a. “The Peg”) along the ocean. This is home for the American Red Cross Life Saving Corps.

The Corps are dedicated individuals with one purpose, to save lives. To become part of the elite team, there is a rigorous 12 week program that tests both mental and physical toughness. For the small percentage of recruits that pass, the brothers and sisters are part of a lifelong fellowship. A member of the Corps, regardless of sex, is known as a “surfman”. Each surfman is re-certified every year in lifesaving, first aid, and CPR.

The U.S. Life-Saving Corps started in Pablo Beach in 1912. That same year, Woodrow Wilson, candidate for President, was drawing large crowds in Jacksonville. Other current events were the founding of the Girl Scouts and the sinking of the RMS Titanic.  

On April 6th, 1913, Life-Saving Station No. 1 was built on the site of the old Murray Hall Hotel. There were nineteen volunteer lifeguards on patrol since bathers were regularly arriving from Jacksonville by train along the F.E.C. Railroad. Others arrived by automobile via Atlantic Boulevard which had opened in July of 1910. In the upcoming years, Miami and other coastal cities were emulating the original Pablo Beach Corps. In 1925, Pablo Beach was officially changed to Jacksonville Beach.

One of the early Pablo Beach surfmen was Henry Walters. Walters knew he could improve upon the current lifesaving device. At that time, lifeguards were using a donut ring that moved slowly in the water and could not support many people. So in 1919, he invented the “Walters Torpedo Buoy”. The cylindrical device was pointed at both ends and moved with little resistance in the water. The device was buoyant enough to support six people. Walters and his Torpedo Buoy were even featured in Popular Mechanics magazine. The same basic design is still in use today around the world.

The landmark Red Cross building we see today on the original station site was built in 1947. Located at the end of Beach Boulevard, the white washed structure remains a fixture amongst the modern restaurants and bars. The five-story tower with rounded corners is a symbol of longevity and dedication. The black and white photographs on the interior walls are a reminder of the long standing tradition. The proud history of the Corps is alive at Jacksonville Beach.

The Peg

Surfmen, June 2014

Surfman Ryan Karish (2nd Mate) with a Walters Torpedo Buoy.

Another view of The Peg at Jax Beach.

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