Visitors can relax, play or camp on the beach at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach. This park is named for Florida folk singer Gamble Rogers and railroad entrepreneur Henry Flagler.
In 1884, the Flagler Beach House of Refuge was established on what is now Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach. This House of Refuge was one in a series of 10 such houses established along the coast of Florida by the United States Life Saving Service in the late 1800s. The purpose of these houses was to aid in the rescue of shipwrecked sailors during a time when the coast was relatively uninhabited. Each house was manned by a civilian contractor, often called a keeper, and his family. The houses were two stories and built of Florida pine to fortify them against hurricanes. The main floor was divided into four rooms and a wide porch surrounded the building. This is where the keeper and his family resided. The attics were normally used as a dormitory for shipwreck survivors and would typically house up to 25 men. Family members assisted the keeper in various ways, including patrolling the beach after storms to search for those who may have washed ashore. Wives were responsible for issuing, repairing and washing clothing and ultimately became housekeepers and mothers to shipwrecked sailors. The Flagler Beach House of Refuge remained in service under the United States Life Saving Service until 1918 when it was placed into an inactive status.
At the dawn of the 20th century, difficulties began to emerge for the United States Life Saving Service (USLSS). The invention of steam-powered ships, the advancement of navigational technology and the increase in the use of gasoline-powered small boats for recreational purposes rendered most of the services provided by the USLSS obsolete. Furthermore, the USLSS did not have a retirement system in place, allowing few opportunities for advancement in rank or pay. The hindered the recruitment process, and by 1914, there were instances of keepers in their seventies still manning the Houses of Refuge. In light of the need for serious reform, the USLSS merged with the United States Revenue Cutter System in 1915 to form the United States Coast Guard. This merger allowed for the establishment of a retirement system and promoted advancement in rescue techniques and technology. In 1918, the Flagler Beach House of Refuge was placed into inactive status. In 1924 it was reactivated and used as a United States Coast Unit until about 1940.
During World War II, the site was used by the United States Army Corps as an Air Warning Site. During this time, approximately 35-45 enlisted men and one officer were stationed at the site. The purpose of this site was to gather information and to provide detection of unfriendly aircraft and surface vessels. the information gathered was reported to the responsible regional filtering center in Jacksonville for subsequent military defensive response.
The site was abandoned and the state of Florida obtained the title to the property from the United States of America on October 4, 1954, shortly after World War II ended. Flagler Beach State Recreation Area originally opened in 1961. On January 23, 1968, management of the park was transferred to Florida Park Service.
On October 10, 1991, beloved Florida folk singer Gamble Rogers and his wife were camping at Flagler Beach State Recreation Area. Upon returning to their campsite after a long day of cycling, Gamble was approached by a young girl whose father was struggling in the rough surf. With an unwavering spirit, despite the fact that he had suffered from spinal arthritis since he was a child, Gamble grabbed an air mattress and headed towards the ocean. Within minutes, a park ranger joined in the rescue attempt. Gamble, still clinging to the air mattress, indicated to the ranger that he was okay. The ranger was able to pull the drowning man's wife from the water; however he was unable to locate the man, who was later recovered by a rescue team. Meanwhile, a large wave washed over Gamble, ripping his air mattress away. The surf overcame the heroic Gamble and, tragically, he drowned. In 1992, after much deliberation, the Florida legislature passed the bill to change the name of Flagler Beach State Recreation Area to Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach to honor the heroic efforts of the late Gamble Rogers.