The Seashore Bounces Again

I’m aboard Apolonia, a 43-foot cabin cruiser, using in Colonial Seashore’s Riverfest boat parade. Riverfest is the city’s greatest do and it has been held yearly since 1951, come hell or excessive water—and imagine me, they’ve had loads of each. We have now simply pulled out into the Potomac from the shelter of Monroe Bay, which types the city’s again door, and are working our manner north, previous Colonial Seashore Yacht Heart and Gum Bar Level and heading for the as soon as and future municipal pier. To our starboard and stretching astern are the well-known Kettle Backside Shoals—traditionally among the richest oyster banks on the earth. It is about 1:30 within the afternoon and the June sky is overcast and threatening, however the Potomac is flat and comfortable, at the very least it feels that manner within the consolation ofApolonia. Her proprietor, Paul Bolin, is on the wheel, easing us alongside the parade route within the number-two place, simply behind the fleet commander and forward of the remainder of the pack.

It’s simply right here, as I look out throughout the six-mile-wide Potomac after which again on the city’s well-known three-mile seashore, that it strikes me: It is a good factor I am not driving this boat, as a result of if I had been on the helm I would be dodging ghosts. You see, this explicit a part of the Potomac, 60 miles from Washington and 40 from Level Lookout, is positively crowded with historic apparitions, and this afternoon I see them each manner I flip. For instance, there off the starboard bow, I see a ghostly fleet of British warships being warped by hand throughout the oyster-thick shoals on their solution to seize Washington. It’s 1814, and they’re going to succeed. Coming again down the river they are going to have an extra 25 prize ships in tow, and, once more, the crews will offload all the things and pull the ships throughout the shoals by hand. A sluggish and agonizing course of, to make sure, however nonetheless they are going to make it to Baltimore harbor in time for Francis Scott Key to see their rockets’ purple glare. And look, there, tearing throughout our wake, it is a Maryland patrol boat sizzling on the tail of a neighborhood oyster dredger. Hear the machine-gun hearth? One in all them goes to finish up useless. Now look forward of us, simply passing beneath the U.S. Route 301 bridge, there’s the ghost of the well-known paddlewheel steamer St. Johns, its rails filled with comfortable early-20th-century excursionists sure for Colonial Seashore. Sure, from the ring of a thousand one-armed bandits to the creak of an oar as a Accomplice spy slips between a pair of Federal warships, the water off Colonial Seashore is alarmingly and charmingly crowded with ghosts.

Paul Bolin, nonetheless, isn’t distracted. He holds Apolonia regular on her course. His eye isn’t on the previous however on the way forward for Colonial Seashore and what this city, which has had extra ups and downs than a bobber in a five-foot swell, is on its solution to changing into. As a result of Colonial Seashore, most lately walloped by Isabel’s unprecedented storm surge, is as absolutely on its manner up the subsequent massive wave because the lifetime of the waterman is on the decline.

With us on this Sunday drive within the barque are the parade’s grand marshals, Sonny and Dottie Schick, who reside subsequent door to Bolin’s Bell Home Mattress & Breakfast, and their son Kyle and his spouse Relda. Kyle and Relda are significantly trying ahead to a trip up any wave in any respect, since Isabel was really the second punch in a one-two mixture that left their Colonial Seashore Yacht Heart reeling.

The most important and one of many oldest marinas within the space, Colonial Seashore Yacht Heart was first devastated in Could 2002 by a hearth that tore via the marina’s docks, blowing up boat after boat like so many harbor mines. Fifty-six vessels, a few of them irreplaceable wood classics, had been destroyed. Lots of these misplaced woodies would have been with us right this moment within the boat parade, however as an alternative are actually a part of one more ghostly flotilla. After the fireplace, the Schicks set about rebuilding the marina and had been making good headway—till Isabel rolled via like a bulldozer, tossing round thousand-pound rocks and destroying one other 40 boats, a lot of them on trailers and cradles.

“What the fireplace did not take, the hurricane did,” Kyle Schick had informed me as we toured the Yacht Heart earlier that weekend in a golf cart, Colonial Seashore’s new automobile of selection. Broken within the storm had been the Yacht Heart’s Dockside Restaurant, ship’s retailer, boathouse, boat-lift space, pump-out space and gasoline station. “We’re placing issues again collectively, however higher,” Schick mentioned. “We have had a number of assist from the neighborhood and different marinas, however insurance coverage by no means covers what you suppose it would.”

The brand new docks are wider than the outdated ones and all have pedestals with a telephone jack and sufficient energy for even the most popular days and essentially the most demanding boats. The brand new coated docks will likely be manufactured from galvanized trusses and canvas that type an arch over every slip. They are going to be hearth resistant and hold UV rays out whereas letting within the solar. With various the brand new docks already in, the Yacht Heart will quickly have 100 open slips and 20 coated slips. There’s room for an additional 100 boats on the arduous. Presently, there are 15 transient slips with plans for 40.

Colonial Seashore Yacht Heart’s place on the entrance to Monroe Bay has lengthy made it interesting to massive boats coming and going from Washington, D.C., however on the identical time it makes the marina extra susceptible to storms than these tucked into Monroe Bay. The ability was initially an oyster-packing home established within the 1930s. In the course of the nice hurricane of 1933, the constructing floated off its piers, however it was hauled again and a concrete slab was poured to maintain it in place. Within the 1940s, when the marina was developed with about 200 slips, the oyster-packing home grew to become a restaurant. Isabel failed to maneuver it however she did destroy the inside. That has since been restored, and the Dockside Restaurant reopened earlier this spring.

Two different in style Colonial Seashore eating places on the water additionally had been destroyed—the Pleased Clam and Wilkerson’s Restaurant, each on the north finish of city. Wilkerson’s, since rebuilt, reopened a number of months in the past with recent fish, piping sizzling hush puppies and a wall of home windows on the Potomac. However the Pleased Clam has but to make its comeback.

Though the Yacht Heart was the one marina within the space to lose boats within the storm, others felt the impact as properly. Jan Swink of Nightingale Motel and Marina on Monroe Bay stands within the heart of her new kitchen to indicate me the place she stood that night time, knee-deep in water, watching minnows swim between her toes. “Our docks had been like an accordion in some spots,” she says. In Nightingale’s motel rooms, the water rose above the headboards; all six models needed to be completely redone. However like a whole bunch of others throughout city, Swink and her husband Bob set to work and had been able to reopen in time for the 2004 boating season. “And I bought to make some modifications I needed to, anyway,” she provides, opening the doorways to indicate me two new bogs and showers for boaters.

Just a bit manner up the bay from the Nightingale is Colonial Seashore’s final marine railway and a must-see cease for any boat lover. There, the doyenne of Colonial Seashore’s marina house owners, Mary Virginia Stanford of Stanford’s Marine Railway, sits within the ship’s retailer “lounge” and shakes her silver head slowly after I ask in regards to the loss from Isabel. “So many individuals had bushes fall on their homes,” she says sadly. “Within the automotive the subsequent day, I might trip a little bit bit, then cry a little bit bit.” On the railway, the place for greater than 60 years her husband Clarence constructed boats which are nonetheless in use right this moment, the wind blew off a part of a roof and the water rose midway up the store constructing. Nevertheless it did no critical harm, since the entire electrical gear had been moved earlier to increased floor. The slips survived, as did the coated wharf, which home each Hermione, a meticulously restored 1927 Elco, and Pathfinder II, the final boat Clarence Stanford constructed.

Again within the heart of city at Doc’s Motel, Ellie Carruthers and her husband, “Little Doc,” merely went to mattress when it bought too darkish to take any extra storm photos and the ability failed. “The following morning I mentioned, ‘Oh, my God!’ ” Ellie says. The final surge of water had lifted particles over the four-foot fence that separates the city’s oldest motel from the Potomac and left it strewn between the 2 wings of rooms. “We stuffed eighty massive luggage,” she says. “Everyone set to. It was like being in a parade to the dump. Lastly, they needed to shut the dump.”

North of Doc’s, the city pier lay in ruins that day, as did a neighboring charterboat dock. After I visited the spot earlier than the boat parade, I might see that the charterboat dock was again in place, however the city pier nonetheless wanted a couple of extra planks to be completed.

Previous Doc’s and the piers stretches Colonial Seashore’s well-known boardwalk, as soon as alive with vacationing households who crowded the wood walkway and meals stands. At present, it is a concrete sidewalk snaking via the sand, bordered solely by two or three meals merchandising survivors. Purchase an ice cream and take a stroll alongside the boardwalk, although, and you will not be alone, you may be within the firm of among the seashore’s most raucous ghosts—the playing casinos and dance halls that drew tens of 1000’s of keen summer time guests from the late 1940s via the ’50s. However time, antigambling legal guidelines, a hearth within the 1960s and a number of other earlier storms took their toll, and the Monte Carlo, the Jackpot, Joyland, Little Metal Pier and their like had been gone years earlier than Hurricane Isabel was a lot as a zephyr within the Sahara. Solely the Riverboat (as soon as the Little Reno) remained, perched over the Maryland-owned Potomac and providing off-track betting, keno, two state lotteries and lunch to a quiet summer time crowd. However the Riverboat is gone, too, one other sufferer of Isabel. Not like the others, nonetheless, the Riverboat will likely be again.

Peggy Browning Linthacum and Laura Raley, who’re sisters, preside over a small building trailer on the seashore finish of the Riverboat’s ruined pier. Their job is to guarantee the curious—me, for instance—that the Riverboat is certainly going to be rebuilt. “We needed to go throughout the allow course of, which has taken a very long time,” Linthacum tells me. “However the Riverboat was just about grandfathered in, so it is lastly okayed.” Linthacum and Raley are the sisters of Peggy Flanagan, who together with her husband Tom has owned the Riverboat since 1992. The brand new Riverboat, which should hold to the identical footprint because the outdated, will really seem like a riverboat this time, Linthacum says, full with a working paddlewheel. “We had been the primary lottery sellers in Maryland,” Raley says proudly. “Prospects would purchase a Virginia lottery ticket after which a Maryland ticket just some steps away.”

It was the power to take these few steps, from the Virginia shore to the casinos that sat on lengthy piers over the Maryland Potomac, that set the neon blazing and the joint a-jumpin’ from 1949 to 1958, when the one-armed bandit was king of Maryland amusements. After the completion of the U.S. Route 301 bridge throughout the Potomac in 1941, Colonial Seashore was not such an extended drive from Washington and Baltimore, and the city’s a whole bunch of slot machines, casinos, dance halls, welcoming seashore and a boardwalk jam-packed with amusements gave individuals loads of causes to come back.

“We used to open the motel on Could fifteenth and keep full all summer time,” Ellie Carruthers recollects. “If we weren’t full by midday, we questioned what was incorrect.” Carruthers herself first got here to Colonial Seashore when her father, a Washington bricklayer, lastly discovered the time to take the household on a treasured two-week trip. “After I got here in 1951, there have been slot machines all over the place. It was loopy!” She met Little Doc (his father was the Doc) on the Riverside and by no means left. “You’ll go up on the boardwalk at night time, with moms and dads and kids of all ages, all having a beautiful time,” she tells me as we sit in her tiny however snug motel workplace. Now in her 70s, Carruthers lately broke her hip, however, unfazed by the expertise, she places me in her wheelchair to talk whereas she settles into the workplace chair. “I’ve friends who met each other on the boardwalk, and different who make their reservations to fulfill right here on the identical time annually. A few of my clients have stayed with me yearly for 50 years. I make the reservations for them earlier than they even name.”
Watching this yr’s boat parade from Doc’s is likely one of the motel’s first friends, now a frail outdated gentleman in his 90s. With him are his daughter, his granddaughter and his great-granddaughter and their households. They’ve taken six rooms for the weekend. Mary Virginia Stanford is one other long-ago come-here to Colonial Seashore who fondly remembers its wild and loopy decade. She met been-here Clarence throughout World Warfare II whereas he was in Apalachicola, Fla., on a menhaden fishing expedition along with his father. She and Clarence returned to Colonial Seashore and in 1945 constructed a marine retailer and boatworks which, she says, “We have been engaged on all our lives.” They’re each now of their 80s, and whereas Mary Virginia stays lively, Clarence is confined to a wheelchair.

Mary Virginia had no objection to the outdated slot machines, although. “I am all for playing. Dwell and let reside.” She performed the nickel machine one time, she says. “I put one in and sixteen got here out. I put them in my pocket, went residence and acquired curtains.” She remembers the boardwalk, the outdated houses and the time singer Jimmy Dean, “earlier than he was well-known,” got here to Colonial Seashore to carry out. “My head got here to his belt buckle.”

Stanford additionally remembers the Oyster Wars of the 1950s, when Maryland marine police would give chase to Virgin-ians who had been dredging Maryland oysters (within the Potomac they had been all Maryland oysters). Energy dredging had lengthy been dominated unlawful in Maryland as a result of it tore up the already diminished oyster beds. Solely hand-tonging, sluggish and work intensive, was allowed (and, on sure days, skipjacks might dredge beneath sail). A tonger pulled oysters up with what seems to be very very similar to a Brobdingnagian posthole digger, bringing in solely sufficient at one time for a reasonably hungry man’s hors d’oeuvre. However dredging (or dragging) the beds might usher in many extra bushels of oysters than tonging. If the unlawful dredgers hightailed it, it wasn’t unusual for the marine patrols to open hearth as they gave chase—generally all the way in which up Monroe Bay.

“I used to be standing out in again with a child in my arms,” Stanford recollects, “when the police adopted a ship into the bay. The 2 boats got here flying in. The bullets had been ricocheting throughout me.” Carruthers, too, remembers the sound of machine weapons within the night time. “The younger males would simply come up on the seashore to be in Virginia when the Maryland police had been after them. I noticed one younger man stroll up out of the water and name again, ‘You’ll be able to’t get me.’ They sat there and waited for him.”

On April 17, 1959, the bullets lastly discovered a goal and left Colonial Seashore resident Berkley Muse useless. The fatality prompted the governors of Maryland and Virginia to achieve a compromise, and the Oyster Wars, which had been waged on and off for a century, kind of ended.

However because the oyster harvest slackened and the slots disappeared, trip habits modified, too, and for the subsequent 40 years, Colonial Seashore grew to become a quiet place certainly, “a dreamer of a colourful previous,” as Frederick Tilp known as it in his 1978 ebook, This Was Potomac River. 

In 1985, residents found a couple of ghosts they hadn’t even identified about. One morning after a foul storm, strollers came across a number of skeleton toes protruding of a sand financial institution at Gum Bar Level. When excavated, the our bodies all confirmed that they had obtained a blow to the cranium. “They most likely had been immigrants pressed out of Baltimore bars within the late 1800s to work aboard a skipjack oystering,” Kyle Schick tells me as Apolonia passes what’s now usually known as Ghost Level. “This was their payoff.”

Now evidently Colonial Seashore is about to obtain a payoff of a really completely different type. Up to now yr, actual property costs have grown wings, and actual property brokers like Bob Swink of Colonial Seashore Realty cannot hold sufficient listings to fulfill the demand. Properties now promote usually inside per week of coming in the marketplace, one thing of a novelty for home–owners on Virginia’s Northern Neck. Michael Wardman, who lately invested in a block of downtown actual property of his personal, informed me that for the value he bought his Colonial Seashore residence a couple of years in the past, he could not even purchase the tons now. Housing begins are manner up, as properly. “Up to now two years, we have constructed about ninety new houses. Earlier than that, it was lower than ten a yr,” City Supervisor Brian Hooten mentioned. “The seashore has been rediscovered.”

Colonial Seashore’s Planning and Zoning Fee has additionally given preliminary approval to 2 massive improvement tasks. The bigger would put an 18-hole championship golf course and about 900 housing models on 600 acres close to Wilkerson’s Restaurant. The second, extra controversial as a result of it features a proposed marina, would create 250 housing models, largely townhouses, and boat slips for residents on 50 acres bordering Monroe Level. “With all this development, the largest problem the city has now’s sustaining its appeal,” Wardman mentioned. “It is a massive alternative.”

It is a problem a lot on the thoughts of Brian Hooten, as properly. About 10 years in the past, the city purchased up all of the boardwalk’s uncared for and derelict properties after which demolished them. Now the city has put these 4 acres of land out for bid within the hope of drawing a suggestion to develop the location with tourist-friendly companies. After doing this twice, Hooten mentioned, town continues to be not happy. “The proposals have been weighted towards residential,” Hooten mentioned. “We would like business functions utilized by vacationers and residents—like eating places and ice-cream parlors.” The proposed residential tasks are additionally multistory, which each Hooten and Wardman oppose. “I am towards high- and mid-rise buildings right here,” Wardman mentioned. “I do not suppose it might be a superb determination as a result of it might make Colonial Seashore seem like all over the place else.”

Paul Bolin, too, is a first-rate mover in Colonial Seashore’s renaissance. He’s president of the Chamber of Commerce along with working the Bell Home Mattress & Breakfast along with his spouse Anne and taking friends out on Apolonia for four-course dinner cruises. He’s additionally spearheading “Imaginative and prescient 2015,” which he says will develop a consensus amongst residents for the city’s path and development. “I feel the city will change,” he tells me as he holds Apolonia off the city pier so we will watch the remainder of the parade. “However when you begin improvement it is arduous to manage the place it goes. There is not any rheostat.”

“On this city it is usually the outdated residents, those who had been younger within the ’50s, who wish to see the city get loopy once more,” says Relda Schick, coming as much as sit beside me on Apolonia’s flying bridge as we watch the Elco glide elegantly by. “And it is the youthful ones who need it to maintain its quaint appeal. It is one of many ironies of Colonial Seashore.”

There’s at the very least one resident, how-ever, who want to have it each methods. “I would wish to see some improvement, however I would hate to see issues change,” Mary Virginia Stanford had mentioned to me as a duck walked within the entrance door of the ship’s retailer at Stanford’s Marine Railway. And that mallard, at the very least, was no ghost.