Amagansett Life-Saving Station Is Being Returned To Its Roots

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Built in 1906, the Amagansett Life-Saving and Coast Guard Station is getting closer to its roots every day.

As of early last week, the exterior had new cedar shingles and gutters, the wraparound porch was finished and a chimney was flashed and ready for brickwork, thanks to a crew of workers pitched in by the East Hampton builder Ben Krupinski over a several-months period.

From the spacious boat room, tailor-made doors swing open to reveal sand dunes and sunlight outdoors, thanks to the handiwork of Reilly Windows and Doors in Calverton. Inside the station, most traces of the Carmichael family, who donated the former life-saving station to East Hampton Town after inhabiting it for about 40 years, have been demolished by vocational trainees from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.

“They did a fabulous job,” said Kent Miller, who heads the East Hampton Town Amagansett Life-Saving and Coast Guard Station Committee, which is spearheading efforts to restore the historic station to use as a museum, an office for the town lifeguards and a public meeting space.

“A lot of people that we worked with all pitched in and made it look like what it looks like today,” Mr. Krupinski said last Tuesday. The building still needs to be painted, and enough locust wood needs to be found to replicate ramps once used to launch surf boats and breeches-buoy rigs to rescue shipwreck victims.

In addition, “we’ve got to start tackling the inside,” Mr. Krupinski said of what appeared to be no minor undertaking. “I’m going to help them out. It’s a good thing … it’s very historic,” he said.

Robert Hefner, a historic preservation consultant who prepared a report on the building, explained that the station harks back to the days of commercial transatlantic and coastal trade, the same commercial shipping route that in its significance earned National Historic Landmark status for the Montauk Lighthouse.

From Europe and in some cases New England, manufactured goods and, by the mid-19th-century, immigrants, were delivered to New York by way of the East End’s south shore. “There were so many shipwrecks because there was so much traffic here,” Mr. Hefner said.

At life-saving stations strung along the coast, the men spent days doing practice drills with surf boats, which they’d row out to a shipwreck, or with breeches buoys, rescue contraptions that shot a line from onshore out to a shipwreck’s rigging, from which a zipline could transport victims to land. “It takes a lot of practice,” Mr. Hefner pointed out.

When they were not rescuing shipwreck victims, the men also patrolled the coastline looking for boats in distress, and the Life-Saving Service eventually was folded into the U.S. Coast Guard, one of whose men, Seaman 2nd Class John Cullen, foiled a plot by Nazi saboteurs one June night in 1942. Four spies had come to shore from a boat, loaded with explosives and cash, only a bit down the road from the station. Their plan was to sabotage the American effort in World War II, with another boat landing in Florida.

Although the Amagansett Nazis tried to bribe Mr. Cullen, he ran back to the station and alerted the others, and the Nazis were eventually captured and tried.

After the Coast Guard closed the station, East Hampton Town put it up for sale for $1, and Joel Carmichael bought it in 1966, moving it from Atlantic Avenue to Bluff Road to use as a summer residence. According to Isabel Carmichael, who is one of his daughters and a member of the life-saving station committee, her father used the men’s second-floor barracks as a bedroom and study and the boat room for big dinner parties and occasionally to rent out. Ms. Carmichael’s daughter, Felicity, and sister, Deborah, used to go to the little lookout tower to “paint up there, little clouds and things,” which explains the white tufts on a blue wall last week.

After Mr. Carmichael died in 2006, his three children decided to give the station back to the town, and in 2007 it was moved from Bluff Road back to its original spot on a new foundation.

“It means a lot to this country,” Mr. Krupinski said of the building’s World War II history, which the planned museum will also mark. “Think about that gentleman meeting him on the beach, how many lives that saved,” he said.

“If it’s as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, it will be amazing,” Ms. Carmichael predicted last week.

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