In the 1870s, the United States Government commissioned 10 structures to serve as safe havens for shipwreck survivors along Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Today, only one of those buildings still stands and now serves as a museum. But the Keepers of the Martin County House of Refuge aren’t certain that they are alone in the building after hours. Different smells permeate various rooms, a cold spot rests under the stairwell and both keepers have seen or experienced strange phenomena that just might be the lingering spirit of Susan Bessey, the wife of former Keeper Hubert Bessey, who served in the late 1800s.

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The Inspiration Behind The Episode

HOUSE OF REFUGE

Despite living in Florida for more than two decades, I had never heard of a “house of refuge” before 2020. Ironically, this was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and we were all in the need for some sort of refuge at that time.

I found this historic building on the Atlantic coast merely by chance through an internet search. I wanted to find historic locations throughout the state from the safety of my isolated home office. The story of a building that served as a literal refuge to those shipwrecked on the Atlantic beaches of Florida seemed ripe for a podcast, so I fired off a few emails.

When I learned that both the keeper of the house and the assistant keeper of the house were willing to talk to me about what they have seen and experienced, I immediately took them up on their offer. A video call with both of them led to a glimpse of a Florida location that doesn’t always make it into the travel brochures and chamber of commerce websites that most of us turn to when planning a vacation here.

As you know, Florida is nearly surrounded by water, and the number of shipwrecks beneath the waves is easily in the thousands – and that’s just the ones we have discovered. So it makes sense that a building constructed with the sole purpose of offering help to those who were on those disabled ships would have its own story to tell.

The interviews I did for this episode unlocked an interest in maritime history I didn’t really have before. I’m no fisherman and I am leery of being too far out of sight of land, mostly because of seasickness. But the story of this House of Refuge made me appreciate that history and the sacrifices so many made centuries before Florida became a theme park capital that much more.