Hope Wynne Carter still remembers “the Beach,” although she was just a child during its heyday.
Along the banks of the James River, near land where a Hampton Roads Sanitation District water treatment plant now sits, Log Cabin Beach was a mecca for local African-Americans during an era when beaches and other public spaces were segregated.
Carter and other residents remember the names of those who came to the Beach: Ella Fitzgerald, Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown and more. The beach may have been a stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit, a collection of venues welcoming African-American musicians during segregation.
“What I’d like to see is a sign that says that it commemorates Log Cabin Beach,” Carter said. “A highway sign.”
Carter grew up in Grove and was raised on Log Cabin Beach Road, which today is called Ron Springs Drive.
Now as an adult, Carter is a member of the James City County Historical Commission. She is the lead on a project aiming to recognize Log Cabin Beach as a landmark in local African-American history. The recognition would include a publicly-viewable road marker.
The history of Log Cabin Beach, however, currently relies mainly on oral history of those who experienced it — there are some photos tucked away in a collection at Colonial Williamsburg’s John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, and property records documenting numerous property transfers and sales are buried deep in courthouse records.
“It’s not designated yet because I’m having a hard time getting the oral history and documentation together,” she said.
Because of the nature of the beach’s history, the state will not yet accept the application for the historic marker at Log Cabin Beach; Historic markers in Virginia require a paper trail.
Carter hopes telling the public about the cultural gemstone set along the banks of the James River years ago will help her track down the documents and land records she needs.
Local oral history indicates a group of about 12 black men collaborated to buy the beach and log cabin on the property sometime in the early 1940s. Those men were from some prominent local families including the Blaytons, Whitings and Edloes.
Oscar Blayton, son of an original owner and well-known doctor, James Blaine Blayton Sr., said the beach and log cabin on the land previously served as a hunting lodge for bankers in Richmond.
Some land records in the 1960s show the property had “various owners,” although did not list them by name.
“The area was littered with deer,” Blayton, 74, said.
The beach grew in popularity after its purchase. There were concession stands, a tilt-o-whirl, merry-go-round and more. The log cabin turned into a five- or six-room hotel.
“There were days when you might have as many as 50 church buses” at Log Cabin Beach, Blayton said.
In the late 1960s, Log Cabin Beach began to change, after many of the original owners died, Blayton said.
The senior Blayton was two or three decades younger than most of the other owners, and tried to make an offer to keep the property, but couldn’t produce a large enough counter offer.
“The people didn’t want to sell,” Blayton added.
Buried deep in court records
The fate of Log Cabin Beach, the identities of all its original owners, and why and when the land was sold is difficult to discern, even from deed and plat books filed in local court records.
Land records at the Williamsburg-James City County courthouse show numerous land sales and divvying up of parcels dating back to the late 1960s involving the tract where Log Cabin Beach once was.
The property was bought by Colonial Williamsburg after Blayton tried to make a counter offer and failed.
A few years later, when Anheuser-Busch came to James City County to begin brewing operations, it bought a portion of the land from Colonial Williamsburg.
After Anheuser-Busch acquired the land, the water treatment facility was built. Later, it was bought by HRSD.
Today, land records show HRSD and Carter’s Grove Associates LLC own the parcels of property near the original location of Log Cabin Beach.
Those with information or tips on how to gain records for Log Cabin Beach should contact Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org.