The Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station: A Short History
Originally named “Ilwaco Beach”, the Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station was established in 1889 under the U.S. Life Saving Service to provide assistance for shipwreck victims. A two-acre site, about halfway up the Peninsula and located between the ocean beach and the railroad, was purchased from Edwin G. Loomis, president of the Ilwaco Railroad and Navigation Company. The railroad made it possible for Life Saving Crews to move quickly to wrecks north and south of the station.
Until 1892 when station buildings were constructed, crews consisted of volunteers from the community. Each evening a volunteer watched over the beach and telegraphed news of shipwrecks to Cape Disappointment. In 1892 a crew of eight was hired, consisting of one keeper, often called the captain, and seven surfmen.
Rescues were most often performed by using surfboats, kept stored on four-wheeled wagons that could be pulled by horses and men into the water. Another method, used more frequently on the East Coast than on the West, was the use of a Lyle gun, which could shoot an overhead line from the beach to the stranded ship.
During clear days, surfmen would stand watch from a tower. At night and on foggy days, they would patrol the beach to the north and south of the station, walking about three miles each way, carrying a lantern and flares.
Training for rescues became a major tourist attraction on the Peninsula, with the Ilwaco Railroad and Navigation Company making regular stops so passengers could watch the drills. The “Irregular, Rambling, and Never-Get-There Railroad” also made stops when there had been a shipwreck so that passengers could get off and view the scene.
In 1912 the station’s name was changed to Klipsan Beach, the Indian word “klipsun” meaning setting sun. In 1915, the name changed again when the U.S. Life Saving Service and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Services were merged into one agency, forming the U.S. Coast Guard. The station became U.S. Coast Guard Station No. 309, and its mission began to evolve and change.
During World War I, staffing increased as the station was used to guard the region’s beaches. Later, the U.S. Navy built a radio tower so that signals could be passed to and from passing ships. By the end of World War II, the station was deemed to no longer serve a purpose, and was closed in 1947. The property went back to the Loomis family, who then sold it. The compound is currently divided into four sections, with four different owners. The Station House, known as the Barracks, is currently being restored and is a private residence. A duplex, on the same property, is now a Vacation Rental. The boathouse belongs to a private party, as well as the other buildings added during the Coast Guard period. One of the properties, containing the house of the former Coast Guard commander, is currently for sale through Lighthouse Realty.
The Station House, or “Barracks,” was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.