Joseph Napier, a station keeper for the United States Lifesaving Service founded the lifesaving station at St. Joseph, Michigan in 1876. He operated the station for many years and was credited with many dangerous and heroic rescues.
Prior to joining the Life-saving service Napier was Chicago`s harbormaster, and ship's captain. While in Chicago, in 1854, Napier led the rescue of the crew of a wrecked schooner, and was awarded an inscribed gold watch.
The duties of a station-keeper included recruiting and training a boat crew of local volunteers, and, when vessel was a risk, to lead the boat crew in rowing to stricken vessels to rescue their crews. The station-keeper and his crew were expected to try to rescue mariners even if it meant rowing into gale-force winds, shattering waves, and dangerous currents. The rescue boat would be kept on a wagon in a special boat house. During a rescue the crew would tow the wagon with the boat to the nearest relatively safe place to launch.
In one heroic rescue, on his crew's third transit to a stricken schooner, Napier was thrown overboard and seriously injured his leg. He was nevertheless able to lead his crew to rescue the last two stricken seamen.