House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar located on Hutchinson Island in Stuart. Of the 10 houses of refuge, all that remains is the House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar now a museum. The first house of refuge constructed at Indian River/Bethel Creek to the last houses of refuge built from Daytona to Miami. Commissioned for the United States Life Saving Service the House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar provided shelter, food, clothing and transportation to survivors of shipwrecks. A rocky reef off the shore referred to as Gilbert’s Bar named after Don Pedro Gilbert, a pirate who lived in the early part of the 19th century.
Our tour guide described the sailor’s quarters and once rescued they would remain at the house for one to two weeks. We walked through the keeper’s quarters as she told a story of each room. The keeper’s quarters consisted of a bedroom, parlor, dining room and primitive kitchen that had a fireplace only used for cooking. They had a cistern to collect water. Keepers brought their own furniture. A closet stored medical supplies; no medical care was available. The keepers bought their own supplies; the round trip to Titusville to buy supplies took two weeks. The government provided the necessary supplies to the survivors. Single or married keepers served a term of two to four years and their pay was $40 a month.
Exhibited in another part of the museum are tools that the Life Saving Service used to rescue the sailors. A cot and other items that the survivors were given are on display. The House of Refuge became a Coast Guard Station in 1915. Articles and photographs tells a story of sailors in the Coast Guard and Navy during the war years as well as the early history of the Historical Society of Martin County and the wrecks along the coast.
The house decommissioned in 1946 and in 1953; Martin County decided it was worthwhile to purchase the property. The government sold the 16½ acres for $10 an acre totaling $168.00. In 1956, the house opened as a museum. Plan a visit, the staff is very knowledgeable and afterwards you can sit on the back porch and look out at the ocean. Prices and hours of operation on the website.