Flotilla History

The Rochester area Flotilla 42 has a rich history dating back to World War Two, making it one of the oldest active flotillas in the nation.

Adapted from

The History of the U.S. Coast Guard
at Rochester, N.Y.

By Michael Scott and Chilloa Young (Unit Historians),
December 3, 1988 Edited by Randy Rezabek

The Early Years

The Progressive Era of America’s history brought public cries for economy and consolidation. Another concern was the growing conflict in Europe. Beginning in 1912, the concept of consolidating the Life Saving and Revenue Cutter Services was studied and debated; but the administration under Taft did not support the change. With the additional consideration that, as a military force, the Cuttermen would provide a trained Naval Reserve if needed for World War I, the proposal cleared Congress. January 28, 1915, President Wilson signed into law (28 Stat. L. 800) the merging of the Revenue Cutter Service and the Life Saving Service into the United States Coast Guard.
 There were many problems associated with the reorganization from a civilian to a military service. From the Life Saving Service, district superintendents were made commissioned officers; keepers became warrant officers, Number 1 Surfmen became petty officers, and the rest of the Surfmen were enlisted personnel. With these ranks came military pay and benefits, as well as imposed discipline and uniform requirements.
The Coast Guard was divided into three major groups, or Field Services: Cruising, Patrol, and Lifesaving. The Lifesaving Service divided the Great Lakesinto three Districts: the Ninth covered Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron to Hammond’s Bay; the Tenth covered the rest of Lake Huron, the east coast of Lake Michigan, Beaver and Mackinac Islands, and Louisville, KY; and the Eleventh included Lake Michigan’s western shore and Lake Superior. These Districts were respectively headquartered in Buffalo, NY; Grand Haven, MI; and Green Bay, WI.
In January 1920, Congress passed the Volstead Act and Prohibition began. The Coast Guard was charged with intercepting alcohol smuggled by sea, and the facilities and work force grew annually to combat the endless flow of liquor until the Twenty—First Amendment was passed in December 1933, ending prohibition. It is not known how this period affected the Rochester Station. Smuggling liquor from Canada was a problem until 1930, when Canada passed the King Resolution and reduced the flow from the north. As with most stations, it is assumed the manpower doubled from 1920 to 1928.
The Coast Guard reorganized again in 1935, dividing the Great Lakes into the Cleveland and Chicago Divisions of the Northern Area. The Ninth District was the Cleveland Division, while the Tenth and Eleventh Districts together formed the Chicago Division. In typical Service fashion, the District ordered all lifeboats stations to compete against each other in 1937 to determine the fastest crew. Captain George E. Jackson proudly watched his crew beat out the crew from Niagara by eleven seconds on the two—mile course set up on the Genesee River; though there were few other spectators. They were to compete next against the winner of the race between the stations at Oswego and Galloo Island, and that winner would represent Lake Ontario to challenge the winners of the other Great Lakes. No further articles appear on the subject, so it is assumed the crew met their match in the second round.
The winter of 1937 saw the arrival of a new trailer for the station’s surfboat. This need for mobility developed from the Coast Guard’s response to annual flooding in the Mississippi River valley. Surfboats and motor lifeboats from throughout the Ninth District (Great Lakes) were called to assist the devastated regions. In 1936, Rochester’s surf boat had been sent to the Ohio River. To accomplish this response in past years, the boat had been launched and run to Buffalo. There it was loaded on a railroad flatcar for the rest of the trip. The trailer cost $1,600 and weighed 3,500 pounds. With the new trailer, a truck could tow the boat directly from Rochester. To make it unnecessary to even launch the boat into the water, new doors large enough for the trailer were cut in the boathouse opposite the launching railway. The alternative had been to launch the surfboat into the river, sometimes chopping ice away from the ramps, so the boat could be hauled on to the trailer.
Fire threatened the station on April 24, 1938 when the New York State Railways building at the end of St. Paul Boulevard caught fire. The fire spread to the Summerville Restaurant next to the station, threatening the Coast Guard garage building. Coast Guardsmen joined St. Paul Blvd. firefighters under Fire Chief Fred C. Klein to contain the blaze before it reached Government property or, more critically, the personal vehicles of the crew!
Late 1938—early 1939 was a period of anticipation, as Europe went to war and the United States watched and waited. The Coast Guard Cutter Jackson was a 125—foot cutter stationed in Rochester for Search and Rescue, though it mounted a 3" gun and was capable of carrying "several more." The top speed was 10 knots, and it carried 6,900 gallons of fuel, consuming 8 gallons per hour. She was one of 33 boats built in 1927 during the prohibition period to chase rumrunners. There were 22 officers and men in her crew, including four radio operators.
The patrol area for CGC Jackson in 1940 would be from the Niagara River to Sodus Bay, but in February of 1939 they were dispatched with an electronic technician to repair the equipment on isolated Galloo Island. On their return, the cutter was diverted to rescue a stranded boat and similarly became stranded in ice 2—3 feet thick. The crew was stuck three days before the wind shifted, enabling them to proceed; but when they returned, BNC Edward Doten observed, "All in a day’s work. It was something new for the younger men of the crew, but nothing for oldtimers -- nothing at all"(D&C, 2/17/1939). Upon arriving home, the crew turned to scrubbing the decks and chopping away built—up ice. BMC Doten added, "Next time the younger boys will know enough to take along plenty of cigarettes."
Several other changes came about in 1939. The Coast Guard took over the duties of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Established lighthouses at Sodus Point, Charlotte, and Manitou Beach became the responsibility of the Coast Guard. In March, 1939, Charlotte Lifeboat Station entered the age of modern electronics with the installation of radio. It was one of fifteen stations so equipped on the Great Lakes, operating voice transmissions on 2182 kc (to supplement morse code traffic on 2698 kc). This traffic would be controlled by stations at Wilmette Harbor, Cleveland, and Buffalo. The installation cost $2,300.
June 6, 1939 couldn’t come too soon! That was the day the new station was opened. It had 21 rooms and cost the government $43,000. There was a basement, two floors, and attic and a lookout tower. An equipment building costing $10,000 was also accepted. The old building would be demolished and replaced with a lawn.