Saturday, September 24, 2022

Why Do We Call It… Croaker?

The old Garretts Grocery store, which used to stand in Croaker. It closed its doors in 2013. (Wikipedia)

CROAKER — In the calm of a muggy summer afternoon, those living in Croaker experience the tranquil quiet of this place. Only interrupted by bird songs, swamp frogs, and buzz of cicadas, Croaker has remained a glimpse into what the Historic Triangle must have been like when settlers first arrived in the seventeenth century.

Like any place, Croaker has a story behind its name; being only one of several monikers this place was called throughout the years. Today, we will take a closer look into the history behind this unincorporated James City County community and how it came to be known as Croaker.

John White. 1593. “The Village of Pomeiooc.” Special Collections, USDA National Agricultural Library. Accessed May 6, 2022, https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/speccoll/items/show/8920.

The roots of Croaker stretch far beyond the written history of Virginia. Archeologists and historians have found evidence at Croaker Landing to prove that the region’s indigenous people lived here during the Woodland Period, which took place between 1000 B.C.E. through 1600 C.E.

After the English arrived in 1607, Taskinas Plantation was established on the edge of the York River. Archeologists have found evidence of what appears to be a fully functioning, self-sufficient farm dating back to the eighteenth century.

The Tobacco Inspection Act of 1730 established that all tobacco being exported out of Virginia needed to be inspected at a designated warehouse prior to its departure. One such warehouse was established on the Taskinas grounds.

Even when the tobacco trade began to wane, this did not deter the residents of this thriving riverfront village. Instead, attention was turned towards the other natural resource that there was in abundance: fisheries and maritime culture.

The Atlantic Croaker (Courtesy of the North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Quality)

In the sunset of the nineteenth century, a group of northern businessmen bought a parcel of property on the old Taskinas Plantation grounds. There they built a clubhouse and drilled an “artisanal” well. From this well, they began to sell Taskinas Mineral Water. Advertisements in various newspapers described this beverage as rivaling Saratoga Springs (New York) and could act as a medicine. An 1898 article from the “Richmond Dispatch” stated, “A water has been discovered that is an effective medicine as well as a delightful beverage.”

This “magical water” was billed for treating troubles with uric and lactic acid, stomach, bladder, and kidneys as well as allegedly aiding in curing persistent nausea, rheumatism, and indigestion. Like most of these “miracle elixirs” of the day, this was simply no more than locally-sourced water. Still, the company continued for several years after launch.

Given the abundance of fisheries and water-related industries in the area, this parcel nestled between Norge and Toano started being called a different name: Croaker. This was in honor of the abundance of Atlantic Croaker fish in the waterways adjacent to the community. While the Taskinas name (along with a few monikers) persisted into the twentieth century, Croaker became the favored name.

While this is a quiet place, it is far from “sleepy.” In 1980, the York River State Park was established, offering an abundance of activities at this unique Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The park offers visitors the opportunity to see where the salt meets the freshwater, search for fossils, learn about wildlife, and truly get outside for outdoor recreation.

Presidents Park.

Croaker is also the home of the Presidents Park busts, which used to stand at a now-defunct park which was in York County. Visitors can see the “afterlife” of these heads through paid tours given by local photographer John Plashal.

While Croaker’s history may not seem as exciting as its neighboring localities, it is still one which harnesses the heritage that is The Historic Triangle.

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