Military presence Inlet coming to an end
Military presence at Jupiter Inlet coming to an end
After more than 120 years, the military's round-the-clock presence at the Jupiter Inlet that one resident says helped "put Jupiter on the map" begins fading into history this year.
"I remember seeing uniformed members of the Coast Guard shopping in town. Then I would see the same guys without their uniforms come to town for bait," said lifelong Jupiter resident Skip Gladwin. "They were a very integrated into the community."
The federal Bureau of Land Management plans to take over the property off U.S. 1, including the houses and the iconic red Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, that the Coast Guard has owned since 1939. Congress designated the property in 2008 as the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area, the only property with such a designation east of the Mississippi River.
The bureau's long-term goal is to make the property into a historical, environmental and archaeological preserve, said Bruce Dawson, field manager for southeastern states for federal Department of Interior, which oversees the bureau.
"We want to protect and preserve the importance of inlet's military history," Dawson said. "We also want the public to understand the cultural history."
Military role dates to 1890
There are now 11 military houses, several closed with boarded-up windows, on the site. The remaining three houses are used by Coast Guard personnel stationed at Coast Guard Station Lake Worth Inlet.
Plans call for turning one house into a federal ranger station, another into a replica of the early-1900s weather station and the third into a public restroom. If tests show asbestos and lead paint, the other houses will be demolished, Dawson said.
The end of military housing won't mean the end of Coast Guard presence at the Jupiter Inlet. The Coast Guard will maintain the lighthouse and keep jurisdiction of Lot 16, a fenced-in area of scrub north of State Road 707 that has high-frequency communication towers. The Coast Guard PX will remain.
"The military is what put Jupiter on the map," said Jupiter resident Pat McGrogan, who remembers leading Girl Scout troops to ceremonies at the Coast Guard station. "When I first moved here, it seemed everybody was connected to the military."
The U.S. military's role at the inlet started in 1890 when the U.S. Navy set up a wireless telegraph station on what was then called Fort Jupiter Reservation. In 1929, the Navy acquired 8 acres at the Jupiter Lighthouse and monitored distress signals and aircraft frequencies.
Before and during World War II, German U-boats off Jupiter's coast sunk American merchant ships carrying war supplies and fuel to Allied troops in Europe. Two ships in 1942 were sunk off Jupiter Inlet killing at least 40 men. U.S. Naval Supplementary Radio Station J was established on the inlet to detect the U-boats.
Tuned to the frequencies used by the U-boats, Station J pinpointed German submarines when they surfaced to charge their batteries. Station J transmitted this information to Gulf Sea Frontier Tactical Net Stations. U.S. aircraft attacked and sunk many German U-boats.
The 12-acre Station J reached its peak in 1943 when the operation had 95 men here, plus 11 Marines who stood guard. The station included an operations building with 24 radio receivers, two barracks, a dining hall, administration and recreation areas, a garage and workshop, a dispensary, tennis and volleyball courts, command quarters and quarters for six families.
Station J was decommissioned after the war and the building was restored by Jupiter. Housing was built by the Coast Guard for sailors who were stationed at Coast Guard Station Lake Worth. The town leases the building to the Loxahatchee River Historical Society for its offices and the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Museum.
Environment also an issue
While the military past is important, the land management office also wants to preserve the site's environment, Dawson said. Federal plans call for a retaining wall and breakwater near the lighthouse on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway to reduce erosion. The plan has been submitted to the Florida Department of Protection for approval.
Opponents say the wall and breakwater would be a barrier to public access to property north from Jupiter Inlet to Cato's bridge on Beach Road, remembered by locals as the spot of a former rope swing. Citing potential danger and from shallow water and increasing litter, the Coast Guard took the swing down in 2005.
"This has nothing to to with reducing erosion. This is a response to people who think boaters are riff-raff," said Walter Franklin, a Jupiter resident who has led the group that opposes the plan. "They want us out of there."
Along with efforts to protect the environment, archaeological protection will continue on the site, Dawson said.
The lighthouse sits at a prominent location bordered by the Loxahatchee and Indian rivers. There is archaeological evidence of continuous Native American habitation from 3000 B.C. until 1763 A.D., when the first evidence of an English settlement is recorded. There is also evidence of a Native American burial site.
About $2 million as been spent by land management in lighthouse repairs, building a deck in front of the lighthouse, burying utility lines and constructing a quarter-mile meandering pathway from the north side of Cato's bridge on Beach Road to the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. At the end of the six-foot-wide walkway is a quiet 21-foot-by-21-foot covered wooden pavilion overlooking mangroves and boats floating by on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Until the Coast Guard property is handed over to land management, the Coast Guard families will stay.
The houses are in decent shape, said Coast Guard Damage Controlman Second Class Brian Szymanski. The 23-year-old Wilmington, Del., native's job is to fix faucets, mow lawns, restore broken appliances, repair busted windows, unclog gutters and drag away downed trees for the families.
"Everybody gets along. The kids all ride bikes and play together," Szymanski said.
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