The Streets of Colonial Beach

by Bella Rum

My goodness, I’ve been away for a bit… unless you count that Snoopy Thanksgiving cartoon, and I do. We took another day-trip a couple of weeks ago. Why not? H wanted to drive down to Colonial Beach.  It was one of those blast-from-the-past things. We used to drive down when we lived in Maryland, and eat lunch at a local seafood restaurant that sits by the water’s edge. We haven’t visited in about twenty years.

Colonial Beach is one of those places that was something special once upon a time. You can still feel it. Its sparkle may be gone but the essence lingers. It’s heyday was during the last half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of twentieth century. It was so popular that its nickname was  “Playground on the Potomac.” The automobile wasn’t available yet, but it’s proximity to Washington D.C. made it convenient for people to arrive by boat.

It didn’t take long for people to realize it would be a nice place for a summer cottage by the water. It was so close to D.C.  Soon there was a building boom of Victorian-era homes, small cottages and hotels. Those structures still stand today. Some are well maintained and others need a little love. Some of these “vacation” homes have year-round residents now.

As the automobile became popular and made travel to distant beaches possible, Colonial Beach began its decline. However, gambling was legal in Maryland, and the Maryland state line conveniently ended at the low-water mark of Virginia’s Potomac River shore. Colonial Beach’s piers extended into Maryland waters. Technically and legally, they could and did put slot machines on them. The “pier casinos” revitalized the area for a while, but when a devastating fire consumed the piers up to the waterline in the 1960s, the town continued to decline. Dad still talks about this. I think it was a big deal when it happened.

You can still see why it was once a thriving resort town. The small cottages and large Victorians seem to hold secrets from bygone times. The ancient trees, narrow streets and fenced yards make you feel as if you’ve stepped back into the gentler pace of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.

Of course, we were visiting on a late autumn day. I’m sure there’s more hustle and bustle in the summer months, and I’ve heard that retirees are looking at it in a different light recently. After all, it is still conveniently located between Richmond and Washington, D.C., and it has the second largest beach in Virginia. It still possesses the mystery and fine structure of an undeniably beautiful but more mature woman – one who hasn’t had her brow lifted… yet.