IR Life-Saving Station Museum receives historic donation

Date Published: 
May 20, 2016

On April 18, Paul Wellborn, great-grandson to former Station Indian River Keeper Washington A. Vickers, donated his great-grandfather’s wallet to the Indian River Life-Saving Station Museum.

According to museum representatives, Washington A. Vickers was born in Seaford in 1842. During the Civil War, he fought with the Confederate Army and was wounded in his left forearm at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. He evaded Union capture, and made his way to a hospital in Richmond, Va. Declared unfit for further front-line duty, Vickers was put on hospital patrol and worked as a nurse for the remainder of the war.

After the war, they said, Vickers signed an oath of amnesty and enlisted in the United States Life-Saving Service at Hog Island, Va., in 1878. By 1883, he had risen through the ranks at Assateague Island and was promoted Keeper of Station Indian River, where he served for 24 years.

His wife, Henrietta, and their four children lived across Rehoboth Bay in Frankford. Since Vickers, as keeper, was required to remain at the station year-round, that meant he lived apart from his family for 24 years, with only occasional visits home. During his time at Station Indian River, more than 300 lives were saved under his watch.

In 1907, Vickers was transferred to the newly-built Bethany Beach station to serve as keeper there. Around that time, he even shaved off his iconic white beard, prompting a local newspaper to comment, “A good many of his Rehoboth friends hardly recognized him.” After a few months in his new position, however, his wife passed away. Within a few years, he was remarried to a tourist named Joanna, whom he met while she was visiting from Pittsburgh.

In January 1915, legislation combined the Life-Saving Service with the Revenue Cutter Service, giving birth to the United States Coast Guard. On that same day, Washington Vickers retired from the service. He was 72 years old and had served 37 of the entire 44 years that the United States Life-Saving Service had been in existence.

Washington Vickers died in 1930 and was buried in Union Cemetery in Georgetown, next to his first wife, Henrietta.

“We wish to thank Mr. Wellborn for his generous donation, which brings us closer to knowing the man who served Station Indian River so faithfully,” museum representatives said.