Last Updated on December 11, 2022
Our author, a world traveler, still remembers and appreciates the place of her childhood…Westmoreland County, VA
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
By Jordan Coates
Growing up in Westmoreland County, Virginia, just two hours outside Washington, DC, always seemed like living in a small, sleepy farm county, far from the city and from excitement that existed outside of hunting, fishing, boat rides, bonfires, and Friday night football games.
When I was younger, I never realized how unique Westmoreland was until I brought a friend home from Florida. Driving past farms and down winding roads while keeping watch for the deer that were sure to dart out in front of us, we made the thirty-minute trip to see some friends.
Skinned deer hung outside and oysters were roasting on the grill. The whiskey was being passed around and the boys were dressed in camouflage. “Where are we?” she asked. “This is like a whole other world.”
Westmoreland County, VA, a Whole Other World
Westmoreland County is a whole other world; it is a far cry from the big cities of Virginia like Richmond and Norfolk, but makes for a great escape from the hustle and bustle. Westmoreland is a place where everyone knows your name and the fridge is always stocked with sweet ice tea.
In Montross, the local fast food place, the Dairy Freeze, is always full of sports teams and kids coming from the skating rink, but is worth a visit for the pizza burger, curly fries and milk shakes. Just down the road is Angelo’s, a family style restaurant serving up a delicious pizza. It is also one of the only bars in town, but drinkers must not drive, as the police station is right next-door and the cops in this town are nobody’s friends.
In Colonial Beach, Fat Freda’s serves up the best crab cake in town, but the other seafood restaurants are worth a visit too. I’ve eaten a lot of seafood in my day, but nothing beats a Chesapeake Bay crab cake. Just along the boardwalk is High Tides where all generations get their feet in the sand at the Tiki bar and dance along to live entertainment.
I remember how my friend found herself taken with the quirkiness of Colonial Beach. She was surprised that on a breakfast trip to the ‘mom and pop feel good’ food restaurant Lenny’s, nearly all the diners feasting on biscuits and gravy knew each other. Many were the local volunteer fire fighters who worked just across the road, so I told her about the thrills of the Potomac River festival in June. During this weekend, the town comes alive with carnival rides, beauty pageants, and parades, including the Friday night firemen’s parade, where everyone lines the streets only to be deafened by the shrills of the fire truck sirens.
We took a spin around the town and she was delighted to find that it was not just cars on the road, but golf carts with lights and license plates to boot. A golf-cart cruising fan myself, until then I had never grasped the uniqueness of such an accepted transportation trend. We went to the beach, sat on the swings, and watched families boarding their jet skis and conversing over bushels of crabs.
Westmoreland Berry Farm
We passed by Alexander Graham Bell’s summerhouse turned bed and breakfast. Extending over the waters of Maryland, the once hurricane destroyed and rebuilt Riverboat allows those inside to partake in gambling, as well as dinner and drinks.
Next, we headed out of town to Westmoreland Berry Farm. I spent much of my childhood here filling buckets with berries, jumping over hay bales, and taking wagon rides as well as holding my first summer job running the petting zoo and making sundaes. Between taking in the beauty of the berry fields, feeding the goats that walk along planks high in the air, picking your own berries, and feasting on strawberry shortcake while relaxing in a rocking chair, the Berry Farm is a wonderful place for the whole family. I’d also highly recommend the homemade jams!
Heading towards Montross, we stopped at George Washington’s Birthplace. After a historical tour and short film commemorating the birthplace of America’s first President, we explored the remains of the home and farm. She also got the pleasure of spotting a bald eagle, a common sighting in this area. We continued our historical quest by making a visit to Robert E. Lee’s home, Stratford Hall.
The H-shaped home is a beautiful red brick building with high chimneys and a dramatic view of the Potomac River. Visitors to this ancestral building find a working plantation, a historic gristmill, and 100-foot high cliffs. Tours are often given where visitors are led through the chambers of the house in a historically animated fashion.
With cabins in the woods and other available accommodation, many come to Stratford and Westmoreland State Park to take in the beauty of the fields, wildlife, and cliffs. Years ago the waters below these cliffs were home to crocodiles, rays, sharks, and dolphins, and now in the multicolored layers of rock you can see fossils. In a few short hours you can, as we did, find the leftover teeth of many long ago deceased sea creatures.
Westmoreland is also the first home to President’s James Madison and James Monroe, as well as Declaration of Independence signers and brothers Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee.
Just a short trip over the river is the highlight of a Westmoreland summer, Sharks Tooth Island. Anyone with water transport heads out to the island for a day of sun, volleyball, socializing, eating, water sports, and of course, hunting for shark’s teeth.
Strung along the Potomac, Westmoreland is a fishermen’s town and a crabber’s paradise. The forests kidnap the men every hunting season, and the farmland keeps the farmhands busy. If you are fond of a hunter and gatherers diet, this is the place to be. The seafood is never in short supply, the venison is tender, the fruit is sweet, and the vegetables are fresh. It is a quiet, yet beautiful place, full of hidden quirks, vast landscapes, historical culture, exciting wildlife, and hospitable folk.
For those of us whose family tree begins and continues to extend here, it may not seem very unique, but Westmoreland County has a particular charm that is very much worth exploring.
If you go:
483 Great House Road
Montross, VA 22520
Tel: (804) 493-8038
Admission: Adults $10 (60+ years $9)
Westmoreland Berry Farm
1235 Berry Farm Lane
Oak Grave, VA 22443
Tel: (804) 224-9171
119 Hawthorne Street
Colonial Beach, VA
301 Colonial Ave
Colonial Beach, VA 22443
Tel: (804) 224-9675