The Old Harbor Life-Saving Station was built in Chatham in 1897, based on the handsome “Duluth” prototype designed by George R. Tolman, examples of which proliferated along the Atlantic coast and Lake Superior.
It was decommissioned in 1944 and purchased by Howard Rose, who renovated it as a beachfront retreat. The Park Service bought it in 1973. As steady erosion brought the shoreline to within 10 feet of the structure, the service moved the entire building down cape, by barge, in 1977. In Seashore Sentinel, Richard G. Ryder relayed the story of an old salt who was supposed to have said, when the barge got under way, “I’ve cruised by a lot of Coast Guard stations during my lifetime, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a Coast Guard station cruise by me.”
The paradox was not lost on the people of Provincetown that the federal government had — only 16 years earlier — deliberately burned down the abandoned Wood End Life-Saving Station, an almost identical Duluth-style structure.
Old Harbor is now a museum where an interpretive staff demonstrates the breeches buoy apparatus, a gun-launched lifeline that was used to pluck sailors individually off foundering vessels under conditions too rough even for the surfboats. An extensive renovation of Old Harbor began in 2008.