Town
History

Colonial Beach, Virginia, along with its surrounding area, is rich in history. The jewel of the Northern Neck, it has been home to inventors, fishermen, writers, gamblers and statesmen since its incorporation in 1892.

Colonial Beach began its existence as a bathing and fishing resort in the nineteenth century. The town’s location on the Potomac River was an asset in an era, prior to the introduction of the automobile, when travel was slow and restrictive. Most visitors arrived by boat from Washington , D.C. Recreation activities included bathing at the mile-long sandy beach, fishing and boating. It was in this era, the latter part of the 19th century, that Colonial Beach became known as the “Playground on the Potomac.”

Image: Colonial Beach seal

Twenty-five years after it had been founded as a vacation and water resort, Colonial Beach became an incorporated town, organizing on February 25, 1892. Colonial Beach prospered as a resort in succeeding years. The lure of beaches and waterfront property started a building boom of Victorian-era homes, summer cottages and large hotels. The most famous of these structures, The Alexander Graham Bell house, still stands today on Irving Avenue as the Bell House Bed and Breakfast.

The subsequent popularity and decline can be tied to transportation and legalized gambling casinos. Traveling by automobile to ocean-side resorts became more and more fashionable and weekend trips replaced the extended vacation which kept the large hotels of Colonial Beach filled with guests. In the 1960s a devastating fire burned the casinos to the waterline.

In more recent times, rapid population growth in the Washington Metropolitan Area helped Colonial Beach regain its appeal as a waterfront resort. Colonial Beach reassessed itself as a community, and sought to encourage managed, high quality growth. Zoning regulations were adopted to promote land use planning and compatible forms of development.

Located roughly equidistant (65 miles) from the major metropolitan areas of Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C. the town is again very attractive to working families, retirees, and many seeking second homes. The renewed interest in the community is evidenced by the increase in the construction of single-family residences and new planned communities.

Tourism is still an important factor in the town’s growth and popularity. Colonial Beach is only minutes away from the heavily traveled Route 3 “Historic Corridor” which links such attractions as Stratford Hall, George Washington’s Birthplace, Westmoreland State Park, Historic Downtown Fredericksburg and many other popular tourist stops.

Residents of Colonial Beach enjoy a distinctive waterside setting unlike any other Tidewater community. Almost three-quarters of the town site is enveloped by large expanses of open water, with the Potomac River to the east and Monroe Bay to the southwest. This peninsula setting offers local residents picturesque views and easy access to water recreation. This fun filled town is still known as “The Playground on the Potomac.”

Click to download a membership application for the
Colonial Beach Historical Society Museum.

Image: Steamship St. John