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A Little History of Colonial Beach

Colonial Beach’s past has presidents, sand, steamboats and casinos.  Long before Colonial Beach was developed as a “playground on the Potomac” in the late 19th century, the area was the birthplace of three early and important presidents. George Washington, James Monroe and James Madison were all born nearby.

Frederick Law Olmstead used schooners full of local sand in many of his legendary landscaping projects in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Boston; including Central Park.

Steamboats brought well-heeled people down from Washington, D.C. to escape the summer heat in stylish riverside retreats such as one built by W. Andrew Bell, the father of the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell.

Many of these Victorian gems are still standing; including the beautiful Bell home.

In the 1940’s and 50’s shrewd operators took advantage of a quirk in Maryland law and opened casinos on piers in the Potomac. Maryland’s colonial charter gave it control of the river to the high tide mark, thus allowing gambling on the water even though customers entered from the Virginia side.

The waters around were rich in oysters but technically controlled by Maryland. This resulted in local watermen sneaking out on the river at night to harvest oysters and risking being shot and killed by Maryland authorities in the so called “oyster wars.”

A new history is being written today.  The Colonial Beach Memories group is recording the history of Colonial Beach during the Covid-19 pandemic.  Downtown Colonial Beach is working to encourage restoration of historic structures and complementary in-fill development downtown.  An environmental consciousness is emerging and mobilizing residents to protect and expand the town’s green space.  Retirees and second home buyers are finding that “there’s something to say for out of the way” as are more and more visitors who are drawn to Colonial Beach by its small town atmosphere with big city amenities.  When you visit, make sure to go to the Colonial Beach Museum to see artifacts that date back to pre-historic Native Americans and forward through the steamboat era, WWII and the rip roaring casino days. 

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The Colonial Beach Museum

128 Hawthorn Street
Colonial Beach, Virginia 22443

(804) 224-3379

http://www.museumatcolonialbeach.com/

The Colonial Beach Historical Society rescued an historical house from destruction. The building became the Museum where artifacts and photos are displayed, telling the story of our town. Today the Museum shares that history

Historic Sites Where Revolutionary Heroes Were Born

Rainy days are great days to be in Colonial Beach because you can finally tear yourself from the beautiful beach and other outdoor activities to go inside and visit some of the significant, but largely unknown, historic sites whose residents were key figures in the Revolutionary War and in forming our democratic system of government.

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George Washington Birthplace National Monument
1732 Popes Creek Road
Colonial Beach, VA 22443

https://www.nps.gov/gewa/index.htm

James Madison’s Birthplace 

9221 Belle Grove Drive
King George, Virginia 22485 

https://www.bellegroveplantation.com

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James Monroe’s Birthplace 

4460 James Monroe Hwy,

Colonial Beach, VA 22443

http://monroefoundation.org

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Stratford Hall

483 Great House Road
Stratford, VA 22558

https://stratfordhall.org/