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Chapter XXIV - History Commentary (part 2)
6. WHY WE LIKE IT HERE
Back in Aquia Harbour's early days, a spiffy golf course was nearing completion when a hurricane-induced flood came down Aquia Creek and ruined all nine greens, depositing sandy sediment everywhere.
Even the ninth green on the high hill beside the country club? Not exactly, for that flood (in 1972, says Bill Carpenter) wasn't THAT devastating. Besides, nobody had yet begun Construction on the noted links up there in the Second Section. No, I'm talking instead of the Harbour's truly first course.
No kidding. It was to be a little nine-hole pitch-and-put course, located just over the water from the marina, on the 76-acre, waterway-bound plot of low land, still largely forested and undisturbed. According to American Realty Service's first manager here, long-time resident J.D. Moore, they intended to build a walking bridge from the marina area to the planned course.
Perhaps you have wondered about the channel-looking cut that slices through that piece of land, especially noticeable in wintertime. Was it to have been another waterway? No, says Moore. It was dug to drain the lowland for the course and to supply needed spoil dirt there to lift the area safely above high tide. Nice try.
If you had never heard of that planned little golf course, welcome to the club. I hadn't either.
Waterfront Lots for Dewey Drive?
Another related question arose in our conversation. Did the developer's bankruptcy halt channel building in the Harbour? For it's clear that American Realty Service had planned more of them. Early plats showed a long channel planned south of the stables to run eastward and connect with Aquia Creek, creating over 50 more waterfront lots.
Also, J.D. says they had just begun dredging work to dig a waterway channel alongside platted Dewey Drive in what would eventually become Section Two's flats.
But things came to an abrupt halt when the Corps of Engineers found out about the project--all those canals already built without a permit yet! That put the kibosh on all future channel plans, not the subsequent demise via bankruptcy of American Realty Service, Moore says.
In any event, later restrictions nationally on Construction of residential waterways imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as other federal bureaucracies, would lock in Aquia Harbour's virtually unique status hereabouts as an inland waterfront community with direct nautical access to the Potomac River, Chesapeake, and the world.
One more question of J.D. Moore: Is Aquia Harbour better off now, or worse off, due to the developer's bankruptcy in the early 1970s? Probably better off, he responds. Another early developer here, Bill Roth, agrees. So does long-time resident Bill Carpenter.
Here's why. The bankruptcy judge awarded all the constructed amenities and the roads to the homeowners association for the measly sum of $12,000. Further, American Realty Service turned over to the association some $580,000 in collected dues it had accumulated. That was generous.
Only the roads were no bargain. They were so bad that, even in the late 1970s the VA and FHA refused to insure Home loans in Aquia Harbour. The post office and the schools even threatened to stop letting their trucks and buses enter to serve residents. Today's occasional squabbles over AHPOA's financial decisions pale in comparison to those concerning our early roads.
The other amenities, good to begin with, have improved further, along with the roads. That is, if you don't include the annual dues as an amenity. They've "improved" all right, but that's another story.
Our Greatest Asset?
Thanks also to the bankruptcy in the community's early years, one of the amenities we got for a song, not often mentioned along with the country club and waterways and such, was all the common land within the development. Substantial amounts of it remain undeveloped, well over 100 acres.
Much of the original common land has led to many good things, such as the creation of Lions Park and pavilion, the ball fields at Briar Patch, two excellent parks in the Third Section and the paved bike-hike trails.
In other words, we have a very low population density for such developments. That satisfies most of us just fine. For one of the most obviously treasured benefits of living here, next to the sense of security afforded by our own police and gate guards, is the privacy.
Privacy and Seclusion Aplenty
The abundant tree cover, the terrain, the lack of sidewalks, the single entry and exit, the many blind-alley coves reachable only via our spaghetti road system: All contribute to the peace and quiet and seclusion enjoyed by many.
Not that we lack a strong sense of community here. We actively support events like the July 4 parade, the horse shows, household and plant auctions, Marina Fests, Fall Festivals and the Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. We even sponsor a Boy Scout troop.
It's true that organizers of Harbour events often express disappointment when more of us don't show up. It simply proves the point that seclusion and privacy are obviously more important here than participation.
There have been grumbles, furthermore, over the alleged lack of patronage of the paved biking and hiking trails. But the true measure is not how heavily they are used. The fact they are here is more important. In a recent national survey of prospective residential buyers into private developments, the presence of good pedestrian trails ranked high in their priorities. So be sure to mention our own trails if you ever put your place up for sale.
I mentioned the heavily wooded nature of most of our neighborhoods. That's fine if you most treasure quiet and privacy. However, may I suggest two problems.
One has to do with safety. Overgrown shrubs and trees make us more of a forest-fire prone area, according to state safety officials. We have luckily survived a bone-dry, fire-free autumn in 2001 and a moisture-depleted winter.
The other problem of overgrowth has to do with aesthetics. In my windshield surveys of our streets and homes in the Harbour, one thing is especially bothersome. Too many of our older residences look like they've never seen a tree-cutter or pruner's saw. That lovely six-foot shrub beside the house now rubs up against it and towers over it.
My friends, all those mature trees and plants, such treasured assets in our yards and gardens, need haircuts occasionally. Otherwise the whole property takes on a tired, seedy look. I refuse, however, to point fingers, name names. You know who you are. I hope you get a saw for your birthday.
There are a couple of other notable distractions besides overgrowth. First, since we have narrow streets with no curbs and gutters, any street-side parking creates traffic safety problems. The improvisational carved-out slots beside roadways--well, I'd hardly call them quaint. And the driveways loaded with boats on blocks, RVs and trailers lead one to conclude that a new AHPOA-sponsored central storage lot would be a big plus. One was in discussion stage by the directors in the spring of 2002.
The other distraction, as pointed out by the late, great Patricia Esser (a former AHPOA president), is the roadside clutter of cockeyed mailboxes and newspaper tubes. How to remedy these eyesores? Suggestions appreciated.
Enough of the put downs, already. Ours is a fine community. We have unparalleled access to Interstate 95 for such a large development. We have quality shopping and emergency services just beyond the gate.
We have an excellent police force of our own. We are safer here than nearly anywhere else, at least in our variety of unsnobbish families whose incomes range from the very modest to the fairly wealthy in our private community. And, with annual dues at just over $900 per homeowner, it all costs us not very much more than a townhouse association's fees.
We have superlative road maintenance in bad winter weather. We are a fine boating community, featuring a first class, protected marina. And don't forget the two nice swimming pools, the restaurant and the community meeting hall.
And, by the way, we have good government. AHPOA wasn't always that way, but that's part of the price we pay for unpaid, volunteer directors of the board who often can hardly wait for their terms to expire to let others we elect fight our battles. Considering a span of the past quarter-century of my interest in the Harbour's civic affairs, I'd say the current board and the general management are the best.
You laugh? Then come to our lightly attended board meetings and get an education in community involvement that is nevertheless notable, and commendable, because it's so sadly lacking in many other suburban developments.
Finally, where else could someone go on about a community like this month after month in print and have residents actually read it? I guess most Harbour folks truly like it here and enjoy reading about us and ours.
7. FRAN HOPKINS: PIONEER
Forgive us gentrifying folks in the Harbour for reminiscing about the good old days here. I recently told wife Carole Lee that I had received an email from Frances Hopkins from down in Texas. "Oh yes I remember Fran. She cooked that great Easter buffet dinner at the Yacht Club because we had lost the restaurant manager,.” she replied.
(For the benefit of newer arrivals, today’s Harbour Inn used to be the Yacht Club where we had a cool bar and nice food most of the time.)
Fran, who retired in 1995 to Texas with her husband Bill after serving many years as our first general manager, replied to a query I had made about Aquia’s early years:
“Ben...you mentioned the missing second gate. Ed Wrenn of American Realty Service Corp. headed a very smart bunch when it came to laying out the subdivision. All the preparation work of the second gate was appropriately laid out... I still think Ralph Metts was right when he said, ‘Why don't we just build the damn thing and let the county stop us! Then they will have an uprising that they can't solve and Aquia will have a second gate.’
Fran and her hubby Bill bought their first Home here in 1972, only the eleventh in the new community.
“Shortly thereafter from my Home I started a neighborhood newsletter and we all added info of interest. As the community grew, the name of the newsletter became the Windjammer.” --the predecessor of Harbour View.
Soon, “I was hired as office manager for American Realty Service, out of Memphis, Tenn....It was one of 53 similar developments. In l975 ARSC was having financial difficulty and...Aquia was included in its bankruptcy. Bill Roth, Frank Eck (our attorney) and Ed Wrenn convinced me to stay on at Aquia and keep things going from the same office, in the rear of the Info Center. (now the business office).
Thus did Fran Hopkins help direct Aquia Harbour’s early growth in a major way:
“..[H]ow lucky we were that the developer had protected and carried out all of the promises he made for the developments.” That included turning over to AHPOA all the collected annual dues, a move that made us viable right from the start of our independent existence.
Thanks, Fran Hopkins, for helping direct Aquia Harbour’s early growth in a major way. And oh yes, At Board meetings during her leadership time here, Fran always began them with a prayer. How nice.
“..[H]ow lucky we were that the developer had protected and carried out all of the promises he made for the developments...
“AHPOA, having been formed in the l960s, was activated by the bankruptcy judge. I represented the assn. in Memphis...I returned with the trustee's approval for AHPOA to be responsible for maintenance of all of the homeowner files. After the first board of directors was elected we all worked together to get all of the dedicated land and personal property...Credit for Aquia having so much recreational property now belongs to those early directors who worked with me and many others to identify what we wanted and then being willing to follow through with preserving those assets.
“My husband was the real success story in our marriage. We were childhood sweethearts and that relationship lasted for53 years until Bill's death. in 2005. His patience with my job was absolutely unbelievable. He used to tease me because when he met people
at Aquia and they did not know who he was he would just say he was "Fran's husband." He loved Aquia just as much as the rest of the family. He worked in Wash., D.C. and he told me that he felt like he was entering an oasis when he entered Aquia Harbour.
“We discovered Aquia in l971 and we felt like we had found the perfect place to raise kids in the country (both of us were born and raised in the country in Texas). We bought our first Home at 101 Pinta Cove in 1972. We were the 11th. Home to be occupied.
“Our third son was beginning school and I wanted to find a part time job. I got a call from Tim Johnson (then the Mgr. of Aquia sales) and I was hired as office Manager working for American Realty Service Corporation. Aquia was a beautiful subdivision owned
by American Realty Service Corporation out of Memphis, Tenn. and financed by Westinghouse Credit Corp. AHPOA, having been formed in the l960s, was activated by the bankruptcy judge. I represented the assn. in Memphis, Tenn...I returned with the trustee's approval for AHPOA to be responsible for maintenance of all of the homeowner files.
"After the first board of directors was elected we all worked together to get all of the dedicated land and personal property...Credit for Aquia having so much recreational property now belongs to those early directors who worked with me and many others to identify what we wanted and then being willing to follow through with preserving those assets.
“All the kids in Aquia knew when Mom and Dad were not Home they had a safe haven by coming to the Information Center when something happened that they needed help with. Two little boys were fishing at the warm water fishing hole at the Marina. One caught a hook in the nose (not hand) of the other boy. With the fishing pole in hand he walked his buddy to the Info. Center with the hook still in his buddy’s nose.
He asked to see me. I called Chief O'Kelley and he came with wire cutters and removed the hook. As the boys were going to leave the office the one that had the hook removed turned to me and said, ‘Miss Fran, please don't tell my mom because I was supposed to go straight Home when I got off the bus.’ I told him I would not tell on him but I was sure that mom was going to know about his nose and he would have to tell her.
I know that Ralph Metts was very controversial but he was great at getting right to the point of the issue before him. (Ralph was an early AHPOA director who lived right across the street from the Yacht Club (now Harbour Inn) and patronized its bar nightly, it seems.)
“Another one of his comments that will be with me forever and I love it to this day.......After the Bankruptcy and the Trustee sale...we were without a manure spreader for the stables. The folks using the stables were very upset about the problem. After passing the midnight hour at the board meeting ....and the discussion going on and on and on without a proposed solution....Ralph stood and suggested to the Board that it was his belief that if the Board members put their head together they could find a way to get the _ _ _ _ out of the barn. The response immediately was resolution to authorize the purchase of a manure spreader. CHEERS TO THE GENERATION OF GUYS WHO SIMPLY FOUND A WAY TO GET ER DONE!
8. THE SMILEY FACE STORY
Way back in our development’s early days, when Aquia Harbour was just perking up again following the bankruptcy in the 1970s, my family moved here from Falls Church and became Home owners number 325, according to the Windjammer newsletter at the time.
There wasn't even a third section then. It was only on paper, except for some gravel roads in that wilderness. Indeed, even the barren flats of section two were still barren where once they had grown tobacco for colonists. Then in 1978 came one lonely split level on Aquia Drive--built on a slight rise a short piece from the creek by Timberpoint Developers in 1978, according to office records.
It stood there alone for a few years—and for sale. My son Bob and his family looked it over, but gosh. It was priced way high, at $40,000. But soon enough, builders began selling new starts in the flats from their models. The first cluster as I recall in Section Two was built by Peachtree Homes with three models up the hill before you get to Harpoon. Their business soon failed, but not their former models, which remain.
Anyhow, back to that once-lonely pioneering outpost among today’s many others, you’ll surely recognize it: Its now-traditional smiley-face Christmas lights adorn its roof. For whatever reason, they have stayed and become a Harbour tradition of sorts.
So now you know the rest of that fascinating story, except the details on the residence’s long-time family there. Donald and Holly Brooks have lived there since 1994, and that Christmas was when he decided to do the Smiley Face with lights on their roof. The most recent edition of the monthly AHPOA electronic newsletter featured the place.
Holly tells me they aren’t quite ready for retirement, but that it won’t be long. And that well-known icon will no doubt remain a friendly and cherished statement for them—and for the rest of us Harbour folks also.
9. DEL MARTIN: PIONEER
Meet Marine Corps Major Delbert Martin (ret.). I first met Del several years ago at our beloved Gargoyles coffeeshop (RIP) in Aquia Towne Center (RIP). I thought then that he seemed a really perceptive conversationalist for someone so old.
Well, now that I have caught up with him again (before any more RIP's transpire), Del, a hale and hardy 82, remains a really perceptive conversationalist who no longer seems old. Seems I have also nearly caught up with him in age. In any event, I now write about him, but not because of his past military tours in both Korea and Vietnam.
Rather, as far as I can tell, Del Martin and his family were the first permanent residents of Aquia Harbour, and he still lives ratcheer, alive and kicking, on Richmond Drive. Retta, his wife of many years, died in 2006.
Del and family settled here while he was still in the Marine Corps at Quantico. They bought a lot in 1969 and built their Home in 1970. He later retired to commute north for a job with GE Aerospace for several more years.
When he moved in, the only other house he could remember here was a smallish rambler on Washington Drive near the gate, first used by Construction workers and office personnel and then by permanent residents.
He immediately got involved with Harbour concerns, becoming its first chairman of the architectural control committee
A major contribution of his, according to first and long-time serving AHPOA manager Fran Hopkins: “...was creating, on his own time and without any reimbursement.....all of the plat maps which the business office used to locate lots in the subdivision. I could never have done my job without them and I believe that the staff still uses them. At least they were there and in use when I left [in the mid-1990s]. They were unbelievable support in proving to the bankruptcy court the exact location of the common properties (which were then given to the community).”
“Del's wife Retta was always a tremendous help at the stables (free of charge). It would be impossible to say how many young children from Aquia were a good friend of Retta and loved her. She was always at the stables helping kids with their horses...”
Most of us old hosses are now out to pasture. But we’re extremely fortunate that some, like Del, did so much to make the Harbour the fine community it is today.