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House of Refuge Has Fascinating Past

Two years ago this week, Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge reopened after the completion of about a half-million dollars in repairs after the 2004 hurricanes.

Built in 1876, it’s Martin County’s oldest structure.

It’s one of 10 Houses of Refuge built along Florida’s coast in the late 1800s and the only one that survives.
Through the centuries, many a ship was surprised by a hurricane and sank to the bottom with its precious cargo off the shore of what has since been named “the Treasure Coast.” Eleven sank in the 1715 hurricane alone.

Finally, the U.S. Life-Saving Service established the houses, budgeting $2,900 for each. Keepers were paid $40 a month.

In the 19th century, a pirate named Gilbert worked the waters around what is now called Hutchinson Island. The offshore reef, or bar, was named for him.

Keepers of the refuge lived on the first floor; a dormitory upstairs could sleep up to 24.

The first floor retains its 1904 look. The kitchen and dining room display original cooking utensils, a water keg and a “food safe.” A parlor and bedroom feature period furniture, clothes and artifacts.

The home is also said to be haunted; keepers reported smelling beef stew and finding slivers of a nonexistent mirror on an upstairs bed.

The home was deactivated in 1945 and went through private ownership until Martin County bought it in 1953. The local Soroptimists Club restored it. It’s leased to and operated by the Historical Society of Martin County.

Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge Museum is at 301 S.E. MacArthur Blvd., on Hutchinson Island in Stuart.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg October 16, 2008 at 12:48 pm.

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