For this farewell-to-summer tour we’ll observe blue highways, the stuff of nation music lyrics, these roads much less taken which might be devoid of Sheets or Wawas. Perhaps we’ll discover some mom-and-pop-run oases and meet some attention-grabbing of us.
Blue highways are not proven on maps in blue ink as Rand McNally did when cartographers used pink to delineate main thoroughfares. But on a steamy August morning just lately, for the third time this 12 months, Style Weekly 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 e-book revealed by DeLorme. It’s a type of barely outsized publications which might be full of colourful topographic element and bought in comfort shops and filling stations. My colleague Scott humors me, however he’s superb with a GPS system.
We each clutch Starbucks coffees. Is that dishonest? One factor about blue highways is that you just shouldn’t count on something particular, even sizzling espresso. But you’ll discover one thing, assured.
Leaving city we observe U.S. Route 301 north by Hanover County. We cross the Pamunkey River into Caroline County and move 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 navy being skilled right here and dutifully going forth within the identify of a Confederate normal. 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 to be at this time if the Rockefellers hadn’t come alongside within the Nineteen 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 giant body home explains that this was the place the place Booth was captured after being chased and shot to demise 10 days after fleeing the scene of the crime. A creepy exclamation level to studying in regards to the violence that occurred right here have 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.
Driving 5 blocks, we exit Port Royal, cross the Rappahannock River and arrive in picturesque King George County. After a short 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 move by city to its jap edge to reach at a wooded historic web site, 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 occasions, it’s arduous to consider that he confronted no opposition in his profitable run for a second presidential time period in 1820.
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 really regarded 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 after populated this 18th and early Nineteenth century farm.
Just past the trendy reception heart and museum is a so-called Time Trail, a half-mile, aggregate-paved and oyster shell-deckled walkway. Here we meet a fascinating lady strolling her canine. Vivian Lee Messner, with Barney tugging on a rope good-naturedly, says she was named for the well-known display actress, however doesn’t clarify why her identify 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 massive granite slabs and benches are engraved with data pertaining to Monroe’s life and occasions. “This path leads to 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 love Virginia. When my company, Geico, moved me for a time to St. Petersburg, Florida, I cried. When I heard I was being transferred back here, I went hopping through the office: ‘Yahoo, I’m going home,’ 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 in the end misplaced to a Republican, Messner says she carried a number of counties within the main. “Everyone should do it,” she says of operating for workplace.
When requested for the within scoop on Colonial Beach, she rapidly means that there are two faculties of thought among the many residents. “Some people, the old timers, want to keep the town old timey,” she says, “others want 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 people questioning if the cash is likely to be higher spent on extra urgent infrastructure wants.
“A major issue is that folks from around Washington, D.C., are moving down, buying houses and causing costs to be jacked up,” she says. “What some home builders are charging is highway robbery.”
We ask for breakfast solutions.
“Lenny’s is where the old timers go,” she says, whereas “the Colonial Buzz Espresso across the street from Lenny’s is more hip.”
For a county steeped in 18th-century structure and lore, George Washington’s birthplace and Stratford Hall, the ancestral house of the Lees, are close to Colonial Beach. Meanwhile, our breakfast spot, Lenny’s, is an area 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 house 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. Okay. Lionel Richards, who’s eating at a desk, to a pal who’s exiting the diner. Adds the Rev. James Johnson whereas laughing, “It’s a hard job but someone 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 pretty smoothly considering the COVID,” says Richards of his flock and the church’s packages. “People are trying to get back out. We have between 30 and 50 attendees at services now.”
As we go away Lenny’s, I scan quite a few the pictures and newspaper clippings that hold all through the restaurant. The eatery was opened in 1978 by Leonard Skeens, who operated it till his demise 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 function within the life training of scores of youngsters and younger folks in Colonial Beach. They had their first actual jobs there – and Skeens was thought of a tricky activity grasp: His mantra: “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”
Leaving Lenny’s we cross Colonial Avenue, the principle street to the seaside and a strip of suburbia – if solely a touch. We stroll onward to Colonial Buzz Espresso and method a girl and man having fun with a late-morning beverage. They lounge in chairs below trendy blue material swaths which might be billowing subsequent to the cottagelike espresso home. The pleasant pair asks us the place we ate breakfast and light-weight up once we inform them Lenny’s.
“That’s where each of us had our first jobs,” says the girl, who was along with her son, and who politely declined to provide their names.
Finally, on to the seaside!
At two and a half miles, Colonial Beach is the second-longest bathing seaside in Virginia. The freshly groomed sand extends flush to the concrete boardwalk. Shade bushes – principally sycamores and some specifically planted (and surprising) palm bushes supply a shady respite for these with out seaside 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 sensible, newish-looking sculpture that depicts two obvious guests to the seaside 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 few 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 have been patched up and maintained over time. Little is showy.
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, effectively, jazzy. It remembers 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, while 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.
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 at this time on the seaside are two day-trippers from Washington, Deja Robinson and James Knighton.
“We’d heard about Colonial Beach word of mouth and today is my birthday,” Robinson says. As she lies on a blanket, her companion eats slices of contemporary fruit, apparently bought earlier than leaving town at Whole Foods from the appears of a brown grocery bag. “Do you know of any beaches nearby that don’t have jellyfish?” asks Robinson with a wince. I didn’t have the guts to inform these metropolis people that these stinging critters include the territory and they’re simply as prevalent within the Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach, the state’s longest seaside.
Colonial Beach is a pleasantly sized peninsula that narrows to 4 blocks huge 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 seaside 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 seaside 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 most important riverfront cottages is the 1885 Bell House at 821 Irving St., a Queen Anne-style confection that additionally reveals 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 house 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 inform you that Bell experimented whereas in residence with modest-sized flying machines that have 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 couple of miles to the sting of city and the significantly extra sedate Wilkerson’s Seafood Restaurant, an area 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.”