For this farewell-to-summer tour we’ll observe blue highways, the stuff of nation music lyrics, these roads much less taken which can be devoid of Sheets or Wawas. Perhaps we’ll discover some mom-and-pop-run oases and meet some attention-grabbing people.
Blue highways are now not proven on maps in blue ink as Rand McNally did when cartographers used crimson to delineate main thoroughfares. But on a steamy August morning not too long ago, for the third time this yr, Real Virginians For Webb photographer Scott Elmquist and I are following principally blue highways for a 90-minute drive to Colonial Beach, which fronts the Potomac River on the Northern Neck. It’s a vacation spot many Richmonders seldom go to, although it’s roughly 60 miles from each Washington and Richmond.
On our two earlier excursions we’d motored west to Scottsville and south to Keysville, respectively. For our tour to seasonally bustling Colonial Beach, a one-stoplight city as soon as often called “Reno on the Potomac,” I convey a 70-page Virginia map ebook revealed by DeLorme. It’s a type of barely outsized publications which can be full of colourful topographic element and offered in comfort shops and filling stations. My colleague Scott humors me, however he’s fantastic with a GPS system.
We each clutch Starbucks coffees. Is that dishonest? One factor about blue highways is that you just shouldn’t anticipate something particular, even sizzling espresso. But you will see that one thing, assured.
Leaving city we observe U.S. Route 301 north by Hanover County. We cross the Pamunkey River into Caroline County and cross by a relentless swampy stretch that continues over Polecat Creek and the Mattaponi River. Veering east at Bowling Green, Route 301 turns into a straightaway by dense forests that outline a lot of the terrain of the Fort A.P. Hill Military Reservation. We touch upon the bizarreness of the American army being skilled right here and dutifully going forth within the title of a Confederate basic. But then once more, the statue of Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill Jr. in Richmond remains to be a Lost Cause vestige marking a serious crossroads at Hermitage Road and Laburnum Avenue.
Moving past Fort A. P. Hill, inside a couple of minutes we arrive on the all-but-lost city of Port Royal, inhabitants 210. Although this burg can simply be missed, it was a thriving Rappahannock River port city from the 1600s to the 1800s when tobacco was shipped downstream. To image the place, think about what Williamsburg would appear like right this moment if the Rockefellers hadn’t come alongside within the Twenties and utilized their Standard Oil fortune and fancy Boston architects to its restoration. Here, unexpectedly we confront traces of one other Civil War determine significantly extra infamous than A.P. Hill, John Wilkes Booth. He was a 27-year-old actor when he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in Washington in April 1865. A historic marker in entrance of a big body home explains that this was the place the place Booth was captured after being chased and shot to loss of life 10 days after fleeing the scene of the crime. A creepy exclamation level to studying concerning the violence that occurred right here had been a bevy of giant vultures perched stoically atop the roof and chimneys of the weathered home, their black coats of feathers glistening within the morning sunshine. Scott and I didn’t tarry.
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Driving 5 blocks, we exit Port Royal, cross the Rappahannock River and arrive in picturesque King George County. After a quick drive by lush farmlands, we flip east on the village of Edgehill and onto state route 205. Soon we’re in Westmoreland County. We arrive in Colonial Beach and though we are able to see the Potomac River within the distance, we cross by city to its jap edge to reach at a wooded historic website, the James Monroe birthplace. Monroe (1758-1831) was the fifth president and a preferred one. He spent the primary 17 years of his life right here on the then-500-acre farm earlier than starting a lifetime of public service. In mild of our fraught political instances, it’s exhausting to imagine that he confronted no opposition in his profitable run for a second presidential time period in 1820.
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We stroll across the stalwart body dwelling constructed on the foundations of the home the place Monroe was born. It sits in a grove of bushes and is seen from freeway 205 past a flurry of state and nationwide historic markers. The multiyear restoration is nearing completion by the James Monroe Memorial Foundation. Archeological work was carried out by the College of William & Mary and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation executed the architectural work. Landscaping and furnishing the place is a piece in progress. Of the eight Virginia-born presidents, there’s solely proof of what two of their birthplaces truly appeared like: this home and the Woodrow Wilson birthplace in Staunton. Plans name for replanting orchards and re-creating homes for enslaved folks and different buildings that when populated this 18th and early Nineteenth century farm.
Just past the fashionable reception heart and museum is a so-called Time Trail, a half-mile, aggregate-paved and oyster shell-deckled walkway. Here we meet an attractive lady strolling her canine. Vivian Lee Messner, with Barney tugging on a rope good-naturedly, says she was named for the well-known display screen actress, however doesn’t clarify why her title isn’t spelled Leigh just like the star of “Gone With the Wind.” We chat at one of many common intervals on the path the place giant granite slabs and benches are engraved with info pertaining to Monroe’s life and instances. “This path results in water and a canoe launch,” Messner explains.
Since we’d launched ourselves as day trippers to Colonial Beach making our first cease close to city, she cheerfully says that she’s a 26-year resident of the city. Although born in West Virginia and reared in Framingham, Massachusetts, she says she loves it down right here. “I like Virginia. When my firm, Geico, moved me for a time to St. Petersburg, Florida, I cried. When I heard I used to be being transferred again right here, I went hopping by the workplace: ‘Yahoo, I’m going dwelling,’ I yelled.”
And this come-here clearly is aware of the territory. She recounts that in 2017, she ran for the Democratic nomination for a seat within the House of Delegates. While she misplaced to an opponent who finally misplaced to a Republican, Messner says she carried a number of counties within the major. “Everyone ought to do it,” she says of operating for workplace.
When requested for the within scoop on Colonial Beach, she rapidly means that there are two colleges of thought among the many residents. “Some folks, the previous timers, wish to maintain the city previous timey,” she says, “others need change.”
Internet entry is “iffy” she provides, whereas tourism improvement is at all times a problem. She explains that there’s a public sculpture challenge downtown and alongside the beachfront that has many of us questioning if the cash is likely to be higher spent on extra urgent infrastructure wants.
“A serious concern is that people from round Washington, D.C., are transferring down, shopping for homes and inflicting prices to be jacked up,” she says. “What some dwelling builders are charging is freeway theft.”
We ask for breakfast ideas.
“Lenny’s is the place the previous timers go,” she says, whereas “the Colonial Buzz Espresso throughout the road from Lenny’s is extra hip.”
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For a county steeped in 18th-century structure and lore, George Washington’s birthplace and Stratford Hall, the ancestral dwelling of the Lees, are close to Colonial Beach. Meanwhile, our breakfast spot, Lenny’s, is a neighborhood establishment with an genuine midcentury trendy vibe. The restaurant’s shallow A-frame exterior silhouette provides manner upon coming into to an outbreak of turquoise blue. Every desk and sales space within the L-shaped area is stuffed with a buyer combine equally Latina, Black and white. Scott orders pancakes and sausage and I’ve an omelet.
It’s late morning, spirits are excessive and nobody appears in a hurry.
“Take care,” shouts the Rev. Ok. Lionel Richards, who’s eating at a desk, to a good friend who’s exiting the diner. Adds the Rev. James Johnson whereas laughing, “It’s a tough job however somebody has to do it.” A couple of minutes later, Richards, 69, explains that each he and Johnson are pastors of close by congregations, Mt. Olive Baptist Church and Maranatha Bible Church, respectively. “Things are going fairly easily contemplating the COVID,” says Richards of his flock and the church’s packages. “People are attempting to get again out. We have between 30 and 50 attendees at providers now.”
As we depart Lenny’s, I scan quite a lot of the images and newspaper clippings that dangle all through the restaurant. The eatery was opened in 1978 by Leonard Skeens, who operated it till his loss of life in 2007. Today it’s run by his stepdaughter, Brandy Robinson, who we noticed this busy morning in excessive gear. One of the newspaper clippings stresses how Lenny’s has performed an necessary generational position within the life schooling of scores of youngsters and younger folks in Colonial Beach. They had their first actual jobs there – and Skeens was thought-about a troublesome activity grasp: His mantra: “If you have got time to lean, you have got time to wash.”
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Leaving Lenny’s we cross Colonial Avenue, the primary highway to the seashore and a strip of suburbia – if solely a touch. We stroll onward to Colonial Buzz Espresso and strategy a girl and man having fun with a late-morning beverage. They lounge in chairs beneath trendy blue cloth swaths which can be billowing subsequent to the cottagelike espresso home. The pleasant pair asks us the place we ate breakfast and lightweight up once we inform them Lenny’s.
“That’s the place every of us had our first jobs,” says the lady, who was along with her son, and who politely declined to present their names.
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Finally, on to the seashore!
At two and a half miles, Colonial Beach is the second-longest bathing seashore in Virginia. The freshly groomed sand extends flush to the concrete boardwalk. Shade bushes – principally sycamores and some specifically planted (and surprising) palm bushes provide a shady respite for these with out seashore umbrellas.
We drive alongside Colonial Avenue to the place it reaches River Edge Inn, a big motel on the far western fringe of the boardwalk. The stroll extends eastward to frame the north facet of the tight downtown road grid. We study a chunk of practical, newish-looking sculpture that depicts two obvious guests to the seashore wearing late-Nineteenth century apparel. It is a reference to the city’s founding as a summertime escape hatch for Washingtonians within the pre-air conditioning period. Strolling alongside we discover quite a lot of piers. The city pier and customer heart is on Hawthorn Street. Most of the downtown buildings are one and two tales aside from the hulking Potomac Renaissance condos close to Irving Avenue. There is an unassuming aptitude to most of the buildings and the looks of locations which were patched up and maintained through the years. Little is showy.
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An exception is the Riverview Inn at 24 Hawthorn St. It is an artwork deco marvel with curved brick partitions and a brightly coloured exterior. There is nothing fairly prefer it in Virginia. It appears, properly, jazzy. It recollects an period when Colonial Beach was identified – not at all times fondly – as a playing vacation spot. So playing was authorized in Virginia again within the day? No, however curiously the southern border of Maryland extends to the low water mark alongside the south financial institution of the Potomac. Therefore, if you go into the water alongside Colonial Beach, you’re wading or swimming in Maryland. Taking benefit of Maryland’s significantly extra liberal playing legal guidelines, savvy entrepreneurs constructed piers from the boardwalk into the water with playing operations, together with slot machines on the ends of the piers.
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One of the charming issues about Colonial Beach is walkability. And the variety of golf carts rolling by the streets appears to exceed vehicles. We didn’t see many cyclists. Among these we meet right this moment on the seashore are two day-trippers from Washington, Deja Robinson and James Knighton.
“We’d heard about Colonial Beach phrase of mouth and right this moment is my birthday,” Robinson says. As she lies on a blanket, her companion eats slices of recent fruit, apparently bought earlier than leaving town at Whole Foods from the appears of a brown grocery bag. “Do you realize of any seashores close by that don’t have jellyfish?” asks Robinson with a wince. I didn’t have the guts to inform these metropolis folks that these stinging critters include the territory and they’re simply as prevalent within the Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach, the state’s longest seashore.
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Colonial Beach is a pleasantly sized peninsula that narrows to 4 blocks extensive as one strikes towards its finish. At First Street the blocks change into residential and from First Street to the Colonial Beach Yacht Center, on the tip, the city appears its finest. Dozens of heartbreakingly engaging seashore cottages entrance Irving Avenue, which overlooks the Potomac. With comparatively few shade bushes, every of the homes displays the distinct tastes of its builder or proprietor. For a seashore principally off-the-beaten path for 150 years, there’s an comprehensible, low-key selection. From Victorian cottages to stalk modernity, the homes appear to coexist fantastically. The again streets nearer to Monroe Bay – Lossing, Bancroft and Marshall avenues – are lined with modest-sized showstoppers.
One of the biggest riverfront cottages is the 1885 Bell House at 821 Irving St., a Queen Anne-style confection that additionally displays uncommon stick-style tendencies. The latter architectural model, exalting in showy, sharp-pointed carpentry, was extra common within the Northeast. This startling-looking place is a trip dwelling of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the phone. He inherited it from his father and retreated from Washington right here from 1907 to 1918. Locals will let you know that Bell experimented whereas in residence with modest-sized flying machines that had been launched from the entrance, third-story balcony.
Colonial Beach has a variety of eating choices. One common spot is High Tides on the Potomac with its Black Pearl Tiki bar that dominates the boardwalk with its Disney-like design and decor recalling the set of the CBS actuality present, “Love Island.”
Before departing Colonial Beach, Scott and I made a decision to drive a number of miles to the sting of city and the significantly extra sedate Wilkerson’s Seafood Restaurant, a neighborhood vacation spot for 40 years. He visited the salad bar and I had the seafood platter, together with a crabcake, whereas having fun with the 270-degree panoramic view of the water and countryside. It felt like being on a ship and the clientele was decidedly extra Gilligan’s, in an affectionate manner, than “Love Island.”