The Wellfleet Beachcomber is the former site of the Cahoon Hollow U.S. Life Saving Station, originally built in 1853, and then re-built in 1897 after being destroyed by fire. This is the only Station of the nine original Stations that remains at its original site. The Life Savers who manned these 9 stations (Race Point, Highlands, Peaked Hill Bars, Pamet, Cahoon's Hollow, Nauset, Orleans, Chatham, and Monomoy Point) were credited with saving over 100,000 lives during the tenure of their operation.
The "Backside of Cape Cod" or the Outer Cape is well known for its unpredictable Nor'easters, and has been the site of thousands of shipwrecks over the years. The U.S. Life Saving Stations were manned ten months a year, from the first of August until the following June, by the most expert surfmen and boathandlers to be found. The keeper remained on duty throughout the year. The stations were plain structures designed to serve as a home for the crew and to provide storage for the boats and other apparatus. They were set back as far as possible from the high water mark and painted red so that they might be distinguished from a long distance at sea. There was a lookout or observatory from where the surfmen would keep an account of shipping traffic during the day and a sixty-foot flagstaff used to signal passing ships by International Code. The Cahoon Hollow lifesavers were responsible for an eight-mile stretch of the shoreline. They walked the beach or the dunes four miles to the north, and four miles to the south were they exchanged checks with the surfmen from the Truro and Nauset stations.
One of the more famous Wellfleet shipwrecks was the "Whydah" captained by the infamous pirate Sam "Black" Bellamy. Barry Clifford and the crew of the Explorer discovered remains of the wreck approximately two miles south of the Beachcomber. A museum with a display of some of the artifacts, and a history of Pirates is located in Provincetown at the Whydah Museum.
Once as popular to join as the U. S. Cavalry, the demanding career of the U.S. Life Savers gradually diminished, as the stations no longer were necessary. However, with the introduction of steel hulled cutters and the Cape Cod Canal’s opening in 1914, the dangers of travelling around the Cape were greatly reduced. Finally, in 1915, the U.S. Life Saving Service was incorporated into the newly formed U. S. Coast Guard, and the days of the Life Saving Service were over.
The Lifesaving Stations were de-commissioned in the late forties, and some of the original ones were either razed or moved. In the 1961 much of the Outer Cape became part of the Cape Cod National Seashore Park, however, some of the properties remained individually owned, the Beachcomber being one of them.