History of Gamble Rogers

A view of the beach at sunset.

House of Refuge

In 1886, the Flagler Beach House of Refuge was established in 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 U.S. 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 operated 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 U.S. Life Saving Service until 1918 when it was placed into inactive status.

Gamble Rogers

Photo by Blount, Robert S., courtesy of the State Archives of Florida: Gamble Rogers
Photo by Blount, Robert S., courtesy of the State Archives of Florida: Gamble Rogers

On Oct. 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 toward 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 OK. 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.