Coast Guard Base Fort Macon
Coast Guard Base Fort Macon is at the east end of Bogue Banks and is the home port of several large cutters and smaller vessels. The base is charged with patrolling the waters from Drum Inlet on Core Banks south to the North Carolina-South Carolina border. Coast Guard missions include search and rescue and law enforcement.
United States Coast Guard Group Fort Macon is located in Eastern, N.C., in an area known as the "Crystal Coast". The group was established in the mid-1960's to provide oversight for the search and rescue stations along the southern North Carolina coast. It is the southern-most group in the Fifth Coast Guard District and is composed of thirteen units, three 110-foot patrol boats, one 225-foot buoy tender, one 65-foot buoy tender, one construction tender, and five stations. The group also provides operational oversight, administration, logistics and engineering support to tenant units, which include aids to navigation, law enforcement and marine safety commands. The group's units cover an area of responsibility from Drum Inlet, N.C., to the North and South Carolina State line. Group Fort Macon is comprised of 200 active duty personnel, 85 Reservists and over 1,200 Auxiliary members. Annually, Group Fort Macon resources log over 18,000 hours underway in support of Coast Guard search and rescue and law enforcement operations.
Five-sided Fort Macon is constructed of brick and stone. Twenty-six vaulted rooms (also called casements) are enclosed by outer walls that are 4.5 feet thick. In modern times, the danger of naval attack along the North Carolina coast seems remote, but during the 18th and 19th centuries, the region around Beaufort was highly vulnerable to attack. Blackbeard and other infamous pirates were known to have passed through Beaufort Inlet at will while successive wars with Spain, France and Great Britain during the Colonial Period provided a constant threat of coastal raids by enemy warships. Beaufort was captured and plundered by the Spanish in 1747 and again by the British in 1782. The War of 1812 demonstrated the weakness of existing coastal defenses of the United States and prompted the US government into beginning construction on an improved chain of coastal fortifications for national defense. The present fort, Fort Macon, was a part of this chain.
At the beginning of the Civil War, North Carolina seized the fort from Union forces. The fort was later attacked in 1862, and it fell back into Union hands. For the duration of the war, the fort was a coaling station for navy ships. Fort Macon was a federal prison from 1867 to 1876, garrisoned during the Spanish-American War and closed in 1903. Congress offered the sale of the fort in 1923, and the state purchased the land, making it the second state park. Restored by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1934-35, the fort was garrisoned for the last time during World War II.
In 1904, the Treasury Department received permission from the War Department to build a lifesaving station on the Fort Macon Military Reservation. The Lifesaving Service, an organization later combined with the Lighthouse Service to form the Coast Guard as it is known today, started here in Atlantic Beach, NC with one main building, two small shortage sheds and water supply facilities. When the War Department gave up this installation in 1924, by Act of Congress, the Treasury Department received 22.6 acres of land for the lifesaving station and the remainder was given to the State of North Carolina (the area now known as the Fort Macon State Park, with Fort and beach front area).
In 1938, many improvements were made to the station, with construction of a larger main building with watch tower, a boathouse with attached marine railway, equipment building and other associated utilities. Of these, the boathouse (less railway) and the equipment building (Fort Macon Aids to Navigation Team Building) are still in service.
The dock area was built by the Army in 1941 after the start of World War II but was then turned over to the Coast Guard after the war in January 1946. These docks were improved in 1946/47, with the engineering building being constructed in 1948 and the actual designation of this unit as a Coast Guard Base following shortly afterwards. Again, the "L" shaped structure near the Base docks is the original building used for the Engineering support for the Base. At that time, it included reworking of buoys, a function no longer performed locally. In 1963, a concrete dock was constructed for the Cutter Chilula at the end of the Base grounds. The construction was completed in l965.
Finally, the Lifesaving Station and the Base were combined organizationally into a Station in 1963, then changed back to a Base in 1965, and finally the formation of a Group Office was attached to the Base to coordinate other local North Carolina units. The old station house and main building were replaced by the current 7O-man barracks in 1965 and these structures were removed.
Base Fort Macon still occupies the same area of land it started on in 1904, with many of the older buildings still finding use today. The Base serves as a host for 6 other commands which are co-located within its fence, these being the Group Ft. Macon Office, ANT Ft. Macon, CGC Primrose, CGC Conifer, CGC Chilula, and Reserve Base Ft. Macon. While each has its own Commanding Officer, the Base and ANT Ft. Macon (Aids to Navigation Team) are attached to the Group Office. Its responsibilities extend from Hobucken, NC to the north, to the NC/SC border to the south.
Base and Group Fort Macon has many missions it is required to perform, from maintaining a constant ready status to aid the mariner in distress to keeping the various navigational markers in working order. With these comes the responsibility to enforce Federal Laws covering boating safety to drug interdiction. Many hours of training and work goes into these areas so as to be ready when the need arises.
Some of these same missions are also shared with the various boats moored at the Base. The CGC Chilula, a 205 foot CC medium endurance cutter, stands ready to assist vessels in distress as well as a law enforcement vessel. The CGC Conifer, a 180 foot buoy tender, is primarily concerned with the maintenance and correction of aids to navigation discrepancies with large navigation buoys, similar to those setting near her on the dock. The CCC Primrose is a 100 foot construction tender. Her job is to not only work small inland buoys, but to construct day beacons, ranges and other aids to navigation with the many pilings which lay near by. She does this with the pile driver located on the bow. Finally, the 55 foot boat moored at the southeast corner of the boat basin sets up small temporary aids while others are being replaced, keeps the daybeacons running by re- placing batteries and other types of routine maintenance for navigational aids. At times this same boat has been called upon to perform search and rescue missions, which she does extremely well due to her crane, long endurance and sleeping and eating facilities built on board.
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