We have hundreds of images preserved in our archive, and even more scanned and saved in a digital format. They cover everything from the very early years of the beach (1870s), all the way through the 1980s. Featured subjects include beach residents, life-savers, and lifeguards. Of all the options, this one is my favorite.

Leonard T. Garrison Collection, Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum Photograph Archive.

It was taken somewhere around 1915, on the porch of this building, the 1903 Life-Saving Station. The man in the swimsuit is Leonard T. Garrison, a surfman here. The woman in the back is his wife, Lettie Smith Garrison. Thomas J. Barnes, keeper of the station, is in full uniform next to her. The uniforms suggest the others are also surfmen, but as of now, they remain unidentified.

The first thing I notice about the image is how crisp it is, especially given that the original is only a 3” x 4”. This gives it a level of detail that most images of the era lack. You can see the architectural details of the station porch, including the latticework. I especially like the details visible on the shoes.

But what fascinates me most about this picture is what it reveals. The mixture of people and uniforms captures just how much this building and the people that worked here were part of the beach. Lettie joining the men, and Leonard coming right off the beach to relax on the porch in his swimsuit suggest this was not just a government building, but a community space. It also reflects attitudes I’ve heard from the local community. Though we have records of just how much work the surfmen did, over and over again in oral history interviews, local residents recall the surfmen sitting on the porch, relaxing. This image captures one of those moments. The photograph shows a different side of the heroic and dedicated life-savers; one that makes them seem more approachable, and somehow more human.