Florida tourist officials have given names to various sections of the state. Some are pretty obvious. When we head toward Cape Canaveral, we'll be on the Space Coast. The lushly green panhandle area is called the Emerald Coast. Here in Ft. Pierce we are on the Treasure Coast, but until today we didn't understand the name. Tourist literature raved about the House of Refuge Museum at Gilbert's Bar. This was a long confusing name; what did it mean? What is a house of refuge? Who was Gilbert? Is it a bar where you can get drinks?
All questions were answered when we drove the seaside road to the causeway connecting the mainland to Hutchinson Island. When the Gulf Steam streams out of the Gulf of Mexico on its way to Europe, it passes within four miles of the coast here. Ships from Europe used to ride the stream down past the Florida coast and occasionally they came too close and wrecked on the coastal rocks of the Anastasia Formation, one of the most prominent geologic outcroppings along the entire Eastern seaboard. A pirate named Gilbert used to build fires on shore and lure ships to sail too close, because they thought they could see a town in the distance. Even without pirate fires about 1,500 ships sank here and if the sailors aboard were able to make it to land, they still died because this area of the coast was so desolate. The nearest town was 100 miles away. So a chain of ten identical houses spaced thirty miles apart was built to house the shipwrecked. The men who manned them brought their families along and lived a life similar to lighthouse keepers. They were not expected to rescue the sailors, but if they made it to land, the houses of refuge had beds, clothing and food for them. The rescued stayed in these havens until transportation could be found to take them back to civilization. These early versions of today's Coast Guard rescue system provided help and assistance to many sailors between 1875 until World War II when the house here was used as a look out for enemy submarines. There are rumors that some German submariners came ashore here. Hutchinson Island has suffered greatly from the buffeting of hurricanes over the years, but the house built on Gilbert's Bar is on solid rock and still exists as an example of man's efforts to survive in a land that was dangerous and inhospitable.
As we left Hutchinson Island, we came upon another artisan fair in downtown Stuart. It was much bigger than the one we saw in Fort Pierce last week, and we recognized some of the vendors from there. And we even found something that we needed to buy - a door mat made out of colorful nautical rope. We lost our last one when we left our campsite to get the motor home repaired a few years back. We wondered if someone thought we weren't coming back, although we also left behind lawn chairs, which were not appropriated. It's easy to track in the sand when you're camping here and the mat will remind us of our day on the Treasure Coast.