Friday, July 21, 2017  

White Stone Beach
Then And Now  

A beach is nothing without its sand and water, nothing without something to swim in it. A pier is lonely if no boats pass by, even more so if none tie up. A dance hall is nothing but a scuffed floor if feet do not frequent it. A hotel’s beds are nothing but evanescent sets of sheets if not for the people falling into them. A memory is nothing if it does not have something wonderful to remember. Over 50 years ago, a small sliver of White Stone, Virginia had all of these things and more. White Stone had the White Stone Beach, a resort owned and operated by an American family whose sole intent was to create a place of community, a place of enjoyment for all.

Crossing the Robert O. Norris Bridge, majestic both in its length and panorama, into White Stone, Virginia one is swarmed in history. To the left upriver sits the mouth of Carter’s Creek, the entrance to a series of homes set upon the shores of smaller veins to the artery that is the maritime entrance of the Tides Inn. To the right far in the distance lies Windmill Point, a place that once hosted a marina and various homes only to be ravaged by Hurricane Isabel. Yet, perhaps the point most bathed in the history of the Northern Neck is practically unnoticeable. Slightly to the right lies an extensive set of beaches tucked away in a cove, now dotted with trees, hanging limbs, encroaching grass, and vacant sand. To a new visitor, this is simply beach, white sand eroded away inch by inch by the vast Rappahannock River. To an unfamiliar face this spot situated on the north shore of the river is nothing but an untouched margin of land. But to many, this spot for sandcastles is perhaps a place of nostalgia and love.

White Stone Beach, as it would later be called, began to prosper as the site of the creation of a United States Post Office, named after the twenty-seventh President William Howard Taft, a prominent Republican and future Chief Justice. The President took office in 1909, and shortly two years later, in 1911, the Post Office took his name, and the area did too. In 1916, the land was purchased from Mr. George Smith by a young man by the name of Mr. William H. Culver, a native of Millenbeck who had spent his adulthood in New York City. Culver had different plans for the property all together, and his brilliant ideas would culminate into the creation of a resort to be enjoyed for decades to come.

It began with the “hotel on the hill,” a destination for people from distances all over the East Coast, especially Richmond, Washington, and Baltimore. The hotel was comprised of eight bedrooms upstairs, one bedroom down, a homey living room, a spacious large hall and dining room, as well as a kitchen. Oddly enough, the hotel only contained two bathrooms, bringing the sense of community even closer to home. As the hotel began to fill up with guests, especially in the warm summer months, the Culvers began the process of transforming the hotel in an expansive resort. The first step was building thirteen cottages on the shore, complimented with docks. What was intended to be a simple expansion of rooms for guests quickly turned into an array of second homes, as the same families frequented the cottages perennially. As the community of White Stone Beach grew even more populous, so did the resort. A factory on the property, formerly a tomato canning facility, was converted into a pavilion ample enough in size to hold more than all the guests and their families. Attached to the pavilion was a dining hall, and a kitchen whose hired chefs became renowned all over Lancaster. The piers of the resort became for public use, as well as the netting swimming areas, preventing jellyfish and other sea critters from interfering with play. William Culver’s resort had matured into a lively, settled place.

1933 spelled disaster for White Stone Beach. The season was the second most active season for Atlantic Hurricanes, and the resort and its family felt every wind and wave of it. Specifically, the 1933 Chesapeake Potomac Hurricane tore through Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware causing catastrophic damage, the most in this region until Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The 1933 storm destroyed most of the resort at White Stone Beach, especially causing severe damage to anything at the water’s edge. All the cottages, pavilion, and shoreline buildings were harmed so markedly practically nothing could be salvaged. But it was not in the Culver heart to give up. By this point in time, White Stone Beach began to symbolize a very important piece of Northern Neck tradition, and no one was ready to say goodbye. Following the storm, the Culvers suffered the loss with great fortitude and rebuilt the entire property, returning it to its former glory. Culver embraced this new opportunity and began hosting dances every Saturday night with an orchestra by the mid 1940s. A local band by the name of Brainard Edmonds & Orchestra inaugurated the pavilion in 1944, starting a trend that would go on to give infamy to White Stone Beach. Soon, teenagers began to frequent the place, but were only allowed in as couples, and if they were dressed accordingly. It was $3 dollars a dance on Saturdays, not too hefty a price to pay to spend the night cutting a rug with friends. White Stone Beach became famous enough to even host headliners, the most notable being Big Daddy & the Fabulous Dynatones.

In 1950 William Culver passed away, leaving his widow Grace, son, and daughter-in-law to operate the resort. His son, Mr. Gilbert Arthur Culver and Gilbert’s wife, Amy Kelley Culver, accepted the job with resolve and dedication. Their two daughters, still living today, Mrs. Shirley Culver Bellows and Mrs. Bernice Culver Shelly, have fond memories of growing up helping their parents promote and administer the resort. Dances continued, and were complimented by a jukebox every night of the week. As couples arrived, young Shirley, in her teens at the time, would collect money at the door and even help wait tables. This was the wonder of White Stone Beach; it was a family establishment through and through. It fostered a sense of community unlike any the Northern Neck had had before. Suddenly, people came from all around to spend the days playing in the sun, eating ice cream cones and making sandcastles, then dancing the nights away as the cool breeze rolled off the water into the dance pavilion. White Stone Beach had morphed from the simple idea of a young man nearing retirement, into a two-generation, five-decade long community.

Unfortunately in 1968, Grace Culver passed away, and in the following years Gilbert Culver began to sell off the property of White Stone Beach, and eventually close the hotel permanently. This marked the end of an era, a time where families and locals migrated and gathered together, dancing, and creating memories. A period in which hundreds of bodies had thrown themselves into the swimming waters, teenagers danced the nights away and maybe even had their first kiss. A time where families bonded and counted sailboats on the water, the Culver’s family right there next to them every step of the way. White Stone Beach symbolized all that we could hope for: happiness, success, and community. For as anyone who knew White Stone Beach crosses that bridge and stares at empty sand in that cove, it is hard to think of anything but a good time.