In last month’s newsletter, I shared the first 24 hours of my two-day winter visit to Cape Charles and Bay Creek. The chilly wind didn’t deter the inimitable Linda Buskey from leading me on a whirlwind winter tour of her amazing Eastern Shore community.
If you missed it, check out the hidden winter joys of visiting Cape Charles—Eyre Hall, the downtown scene and more—here.
Day 2: I awake to a much warmer, sunny morning. My Cassatt Cottage accommodation has been a well-appointed, comfy place to bed down after my action-packed first day in Cape Charles. This morning, I wistfully pack my bags and say goodbye to the little, charming home as it shines in the sun, flanked by the whimsical, candy-colored neighboring cottages, just off the bay.
I’m meeting Linda at the Welcome Center where she’s whisking me off for the quintessential downtown Cape Charles breakfast: the works at The Cape Charles Coffee House. Well, I say ‘the works.’ One I suppose could order a cup of one of their premium coffees and, say, some fresh fruit. But this is my last morning in Cape Charles and I want to experience it all. ‘All’ in this case being a hot, fluffy Belgian waffle larger than my plate, steaming coffee, cold juice, a few other delicious breakfast staples and, yes, some very fresh fruit. A word of advice: get your chit-chat out of the way before the breakfast arrives. The Cape Charles Coffee House brings out your meal at just the right temperature. It smells amazing and tastes even better. So even the most social companion may find that conversation takes second seat to the meal at hand. Luckily, Linda and I seem to be on the same wave length—good talk, great eats, then good talk again.
No doubt Linda knows I’ll need a good breakfast to prepare for what adventure lies ahead. We leave the cozy, bustling warmth of the Coffee House and head back ‘over the hump’ to Bay Creek. This is one of my favorite parts—we’ll be touring several Ideal Living homes in Bay Creek. Our first tour is the Captain Orris Browne House. It’s a high-style Greek revival home designed by Our Town Plans and constructed by Bay Creek featured custom home builder, Schneider Homes of Norfolk. There are any number of impressive things that leap to your attention upon arriving at this stately home. For me, I am charmed by the pink shutters! I know—color is subjective—but this delicate, timeless pink is at once playful and historic. I shouldn’t be surprised—all of Bay Creek is a study in unexpected yet pleasingly authentic color. The landscape, the flowers, the homes. Best of all, it all works together. I’m discovering that cohesion, good taste and character are kind of Bay Creek’s ‘thing.’ The Captain Orris Brown house is a beauty. Designed for family living and big on beautiful details and craftsmanship, it’s the kind of place you feel like you’ve been before—welcoming and familiar. I half expect there to be tea kettle cheerily steaming in the kitchen. You can read more about this home here.
With no tea but ready for another ‘wow!’ home tour, Linda drives us over to what I’d call the grand belle of the Bayfront: the Littleton Tazewell House. Another remarkable home plan by Our Town Plans, this home, built by LJ Kellam Construction is a feast for the eyes. The streetside view, described by Bay Creek as ‘patrician formality,’ greets guests with a tidy historic cobblestone drive, well-proportioned round columns on the porch and a Palladium window front and center of the façade. I’m taken in by the breezeway-style connection between the house and the beautifully crafted carriage house with guest quarters above. And for all the beauty of the outside of the home, the inside is just as lovely. Wide plank wooden floors, impossibly perfect millwork and high-end, elegant features around every corner. Then there are the porches. I walk out onto the expansive second floor porch off the master bedroom and, wow. There’s the water, from left to right and as far out as the eye can see. We go back inside and Linda points out some of the unusual touches—a custom created copper range hood and luxury New Ravenna tile backsplash—and I can’t help but feel like I’m standing in the pages of Architectural Digest. More about this home here.
I’m enjoying the dream-state of being in such a finely crafted home on the Bay when Linda reminds me of our next stop: Barrier Islands Center. I’ve read about it, seen great videos about it and am excited to finally experience it in person. So we bid custom home perfection adieu and take Route 13 to Machipongo.
I’m seeing a lot about the present greatness of Cape Charles on my trip—the downtown scene, the Bay Creek community, the artists, the good eats, the local flavor—but Linda has an interesting smile on her face. I can just tell I’m about to hear ‘the rest of the story.’ We enter the graceful, curving drive of the Barrier Islands Center. It is a white farmhouse that was originally the Northampton County almshouse for the poor, destitute and orphaned. The drive is flanked with smooth barked crape myrtle trees. The night before at At Altitude Gallery, I see photographer, Gordon Campbell’s aerial photo of this same drive when the trees are in full bloom. The vivid, deep pink blooms, the lush green meadowy lawn…it doesn’t look real. But amazingly, like a lot of the unexpected joys of Cape Charles, it is.
Our time at the Barrier Islands Center is supposed to be a quick ‘basic primer’ on the Eastern Shore’s history. Linda wants me to get on the road home soon so I don’t have to do too much driving in the dark. (I see why everyone I meet loves this woman.) Monika Bridgforth, the director of the museum greets us upon arrival. She shares the history of the Shore with me as we look at maps of the land as it used to be and gorgeous aerial photos of the barrier islands as they are now. I have questions. How does a place go from an unforgiving landscape where only the strong survived to an opulent retreat for the nation’s elite (president Grover Cleveland included) and then back to the wild, natural islands they are today? She deftly and graciously bridges the gap for me. I’m no Monika Bridgforth so the story in a few words: industrialization. Prosperity. Wealth. Discovery. Development. Economic depression. Shifting sands. A return to nature. If you want to fill in what happens in between, (you know you do!) I highly recommend The Last Hunt Clubs, a James Spione film presented by the Barrier Islands Center.
Every inch of the Barrier Islands Center is filled with history. I find myself barely able to finish reading one historical account before the next interesting relic catches my eye. This place is a living museum. Locals have helped populate it with their own family heirlooms. It’s a treasure trove of historic items from the Shore’s past as a retreat for the wealthy—elaborate woodwork from the hunt clubs’ interiors, silver serving trays, fine china. It also honors the islands’ original residents—“sturdy families who once inhabited this austere and beautiful area,” as Our Island Home film describes it (another excellent Spione film).
My brief visit has turned into a several-hour deep dive into the history of a place I can’t get enough of. I need not worry about being lost in the past for too long. Monika introduces me to Laura Vaughan, the museum’s executive director. She lets me know she’s a ‘Come-here’ (a non-native) and tells me what it was like to first discover this special place. She and Monika talk with me about what’s happening now on the Shore…the new arrivals who are living and investing here…the farms, businesses, eateries and artisans who are coming here for the energy, the quirk and the vibe of the place.
It’s time for me to hit the road. I thank Laura, Monika and my saintly host, Linda, for everything. I’ve only spent about 48 hours here but I’m really starting to get it. The Eastern Shore is a feeling. It’s a family. I head back on Route 13 feeling awfully lucky to have visited this unique and wonderful place that’s so full of life—even in the middle of winter.
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