For two decades after the Civil war, Virginia Beach
was depressed financially and several bad storms
hit the beaches, eroding the coastline, grounding
ships and destroying even more homes. In the 1870's,
Congress established the U. S. Lifesaving Service
and by the early 1880's, four small life
saving stations were built, one every seven miles
down the coast from Cape Henry to the Carolina border.
Small communities settled around these stations and
it was from these settlements the resort city of
Virginia Beach evolved.
Of these stations, The Seatack Station at
24th Street was the most well known. The growth around
this particular station led to the present day resort
area. Soon after Seatack was built, a group of Norfolk
sportsmen built a hunt club adjacent to the small
community that had sprung up around the station.
The members soon realized the potential of the area
and they formed the Seaside Hotel and Land Development
Company. By 1883, they had built their first
hotel. They named the area Virginia Beach
and built the Virginia Beach Hotel, which
could accommodate 75 guests. With visitors to the
oceanfront facing a day's ride through the countryside
from the closest city which was Norfolk, the popularity
of overnight stays grew.
A year later another group formed the Virginia
Beach Railroad and Improvement Company. They
absorbed the earlier Seaside Company and ran a 19
mile narrow gauge railroad between Norfolk and Virginia
Beach. Sixteen hundred acres of land at the oceanfront
was purchased by the company and an exclusive seaside
resort was planned. In 1885, the beautiful Princess
Anne Hotel opened facing the sea. The building
was enormous, extending from what is now 14th to
16th street. The hotel had its own steam heating
plant and electric light system, which is
thought to have been the first in the state of Virginia!
Three years later the hotel was remodeled when the
Vanderbilt family invested in the venture
after a reorganization of the railroad company. The
Princess Anne was enlarged and amenities were added
such as a bowling alley, billiard room, tennis courts,
children's play areas, hot and cold salt water baths
and a large covered pavilion. This started a boom
in development at the oceanfront. Seashell covered
streets were marked out and beachfront cottages and
new hotels went up. The first boardwalk and bulkhead
were constructed in 1888, which ran from 12th to
In 1891, the Norwegian bark Dictator sank
in full view of the visitors staying at the Princess
Anne. The hotel guests and local residents watched
in horror as members of the Lifesaving Station attempted
to rescue the captain, his family and crew in rough
seas. Ten of the seventeen aboard made it to safety.
Among those drowned were the captain's wife and their
four year old son. The beautiful female figurehead
that washed ashore from the wreck was placed facing
the site of the sinking as a memorial. In 1962, the
eroded and weathered wooden figurehead was replaced
by a bronze replica of the Norwegian Lady
created by Norway sculptor, Oernulf Bast.
The new lady was presented to the city by the citizens
of the Dictators home port, Moss, Norway.
A sister statue was placed in Moss, facing toward
the far Virginia shore.
In 1903 the U.S. Coast Guard replaced the small Seatack
Lifesaving Station with a larger facility. This
newer structure has been registered as a historic
landmark and is now preserved as The Old Coast
Guard Station Museum. The museum houses nautical
artifacts, photographs and ship models that tell
the story of the areas Life-Saving history.
The museum can be found at 24th and the oceanfront,
just a block south of the Norwegian Lady.
Virginia Beach became incorporated as a town in
1906, with a mayor, city sergeant and one policeman.
The resort was beginning to bask in the national
limelight of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition
in Norfolk when an early morning fire hit the Princess
Anne Hotel. A bucket brigade of brave women formed
along the waterfront to aid the men who were fighting
the fire. Had it been a day later, when the new water
system was to come on line, the town might have saved
the hotel. It was the end of an era.
The new Seaside Park Casino was built by the
Norfolk and Southern Railway and became an
immediate draw. With a bathhouse, restaurant and
salt water swimming pool, the days were made for
fun in the sun. At night the Peacock Ballroom became
the major attraction.
The first surfer was spotted in 1912, when
James M. Jordon, Jr. received a Hawaiian-made
redwood surfboard from his uncle. It was 9 feet
long and weighed in at 110 pounds, and could only
be maneuvered in large waves, like those from hurricanes
or northeasters. "Big Jim", who
was recognized as the first man to ride a surfboard
on the east coast, would wow the hotel and resort
crowds with his surfing ability.
During World War I, local citizens and hotel
guests gained a front row seat to the naval spectacle
headed to war. Coal-burning battleships called Battlewagons,
the backbone of the U.S. Navy, were seen sailing
in and out of the Chesapeake Bay. After the Americans
joined the war, German U-boats patrolled the coasts
and torpedoed merchant ships, some within sight of
the boardwalk. Crowds would watch as debris and empty
lifeboats would float ashore. Ft. Story became known
as the "American Gibraltar", arming
its positions with 16 inch howitzers to guard the
mouth of the Bay.
The Roaring Twenties brought bare legs to the beach
as well as prosperous times! A real estate and hotel
boom, brought on in part by the completion of a concrete
highway between Norfolk and the oceanfront, defined
the decade. Virginia Beach Boulevard would
remain the main access to the beach for almost the
next fifty years. It was during the twenties that
the new concrete boardwalk was built, the
luxurious Cavalier Hotel was constructed and Edgar
Cayce opened his hospital for psychic healing.
With the thirties came the Depression and also one
of the two worst natural disasters of the century,
the Hurricane of 1933. The township of Virginia
Beach was inundated with the highest tides ever recorded
here. Cars on Atlantic Avenue were completely buried
in sand, homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed
causing over one million dollars in damages (in 1933
currency rates). But even in the Depression, people
still flocked to the beach, all through the thirties,
including the stars! The big band sound came to the
Peacock Ballroom and the Beach Clubs,
with acts such as Tommy Dorsey, Rudy Vallee, Cab
Calloway and Fred Waring. The bands entertained
the crowds as they danced the night away.
your preferred accommodations are still available.