Boating in Irvington, Virginia
A Historic District on the Northern Neck
Once labeled the “Venice of the Northern Neck,” Irvington has endured a diverse history. This burg along the banks of Carter Creek, a tributary of the Rappahannock River, was once a popular spot for oyster pirates. It also hosted some of the south’s most distinguished families, from state governors to presidents to Civil War heroes.
This unique little town had thrived in the past as a regular stop for steamboats carrying goods and travelers up, down and across southern Chesapeake Bay. Irvington had boatbuilding shops, a bottling company, and its own opera house and roller skating rink. It was also a stop for Chesapeake National Bank’s “Boat ‘n Bank,” a houseboat with bank tellers that cruised the Rappahannock River’s wharves, canneries, and oyster houses.
A 1917 fire destroyed much of the town; the flames extinguished much of the community’s spirit as well. Then, in 1947, the Tides Inn and Resort opened for business and touched off a rebirth of sorts that has led to Irvington’s emergence as a compact, but vibrant little community of about 700 yearround souls. There’s an assortment of shops, galleries, and
eateries that draw visitors from all over the Bay and beyond.
While the pirates and steamboats are long gone, you’ll find that southern elegance and hospitality still run through the heart of this community. Whether you anchor in a quiet creek or choose the pampering and hospitality of a world-class resort, Irvington’s solitude lets you forget the stresses of everyday life.
Things to See and Do
The Steamboat Era Museum (804-438-6888) at 156 King Carter Dr. is one of the more popular stops for visitors to Irvington. Dedicated to the economic and cultural importance of steamboats to the community and the entire Northern Neck, the museum displays highly informative exhibits and models of ships and steamboats of the era. There’s a tiny theater for viewing short films about the area, as well as kiosks where visitors can listen to oral histories from local residents.
From the museum, bike or walk the 1.5 miles from downtown Irvington to a step back almost 300 years ago at historic Christ Church (804-438-6855). Learn about the area’s Colonial history and tour one of the nation’s most signifi -cant examples of Georgian architecture. Finished in 1735 at the behest of Robert “King” Carter, who lived along Carter Creek and was one of the region’s most prominent citizens, the church retains its original high-walled pews, three-tier pulpit, English-stone floors, and baptismal font. Its peaceful grounds and elegant simplicity make the church a wonderful place to spend a summer afternoon.
Another lesson in Irvington history: The town’s original 1890 schoolhouse graduated into the Hope & Glory Inn (804-438-6053). This boutique inn of seven rooms and 13 cottages sits alongside a vineyard on the headwaters of Carters Creek. Be bad and you’ll land yourself in Detention, the wine bar here.
Winemaking was reborn as a vocation in the region in the 1970s. The Jamestown settlers had such hopes that Virginia would become a major source of wine for the British Empire that in 1619 they signed into law a requirement for each male settler to plant and tend at least 10 grape vines. Little came of it. Every effort to grow vines of European origin met with failure. The booming tobacco trade diluted British interest in the possibilities of American wine. Americans themselves lost interest. While fine wine could be had only from Europe, whiskey, beer and brandy were plentiful here. With the establishment of six new Virginia wineries in the 1970s, the recovery began. At 140 wineries, only California, New York, Oregon and Washington have more wineries than Virginia.
On the outskirts of town next to Hope & Glory Inn, White Fences Vineyard and Winery (804-438-5559) hosts the Irvington Stomp every September to celebrate the grape harvest. There’s food, music and, of course, you can stomp on the grapes.
If you feel like a scenic ride where you’re not the captain or crew, try a lunch, dinner or cocktail cruise aboard the Tides Inn’s classic yacht Miss Ann (804-438-5000), or take a “Friday Night Crab Cruise” aboard the Hope & Glory Inn’s restored deadrise workboat Faded Glory (804-438-6053).
Even if you’re staying at one of the other marinas or anchoring in the creek, The Tides (804-438-5501) should be on your agenda. The Tides Inn used to be a well-kept secret among discriminating friends and travelers, many coming from Washington; today, its reputation as a fine resort has spread like viral media on the Internet. It’s historic and modern at the same time, and there is a sense of serenity along the waterfront that you don’t typically get in resorts of its size. If golf’s not your game, there’s always croquet—or maybe a spa treatment—or maybe simply relax and do nothing at all. Heck, that’s why people come to Irvington
Restaurants and Provisions
A collection of eclectic restaurants line Irvington Road in the downtown district. One of the better eateries is the Trick Dog Café (804-438-1055), a delightfully different place that will please those with discerning taste buds. The restaurant is named for a statue of a dog that was found in the basement of the local opera house after Irvington’s Great Fire in 1917. Of course, the statue is on display inside, waiting for patrons to pet it for good luck.
Just a skip from Trick Dog is The Local (804-438-9356)— Irvington’s version of Starbucks—with breakfast, coffee, lunch, ice-cream, wine, and free Internet. Many regulars come here to read the newspaper, have a bite or drink, and even bring their pooch as a patio companion. It’s the place to be to find out more about town happenings; just ask the people at the next table.
The nautically themed, multi-tiered Chesapeake Club at the Tides Inn (804-438-5000) provides fine waterfront dining. The East Room features a more formal setting—reservations and a jacket required for gentlemen—while the Club Lounge upstairs serves a variety of light fare with an extensive list of wines, specialty cocktails, and music. There’s also casual lunch and early dinner poolside during the season.
For fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, and more don’t miss the Irvington Farmers Market. You can even get fresh seafood, local beef and pork, flowers for her—you name it. The Farmers Market takes place on the first Saturday of each month from April through December, and is usually open from 8 a.m. to noon. It’s held on the Irvington Commons, behind Chesapeake Bank, which has been around for more than a hundred years, although by different names. Sponsored by the Irvington Chamber of Commerce and the Village Improvement Association, it’s run by volunteers. There’s usually something for the kids to do here as well—so bring them along, too. The Farmers Market is another good locale to pick up information (some might call it gossip) or to find out what’s goin’ on.
Where to Dock
Located on Carters Creek, The Tides Inn Marina (804-438-4418, tidesinn.com) is part of the historic Tides Inn, and as a marina guest you have access to the resort’s amenities, including the golf course, pool and spa. With new floating docks that accommodate boats up to 150 feet, it provides the tranquility of a secluded harbor with the facilities of a top resort. Services include full electricity, water, cable TV, WiFi and pump-out.
The Rappahannock is easy to navigate with its wellmarked channels and deep waters. To reach Irvington from Chesapeake Bay, pass under the 110-foot Rappahannock River Fixed Bridge and steer a northwesterly course toward Fl G 4s 4M “1.” The channel into Carter Creek and Irvington begins between lighted “1” and daymark R “2” on the northern shore of the Rappahannock River. A short run up the well-marked entrance channel takes you into the thick of Irvington’s facilities. Stay within 50 yards of the center of the creek, and you’ll find at least 9 feet, safe for deep-draft cruising vessels. Drop your hook anywhere in the creek and you’ll find good holding and protection from all but the south.
Near the mouth of the creek on the western shore is Carter Cove. This quiet anchorage has firm holding and is a good place to duck into except during an easterly. The Eastern Branch splits eastward from Carter Creek, with Yopps Cove forking immediately to the southeast after that. The cove is a beautiful and popular anchorage surrounded by large private homes. If you can snuggle up to its northern shore in 7 to 8 feet, you are well-protected from all directions, and the cove is only a short dinghy ride from Irvington’s facilities.
Stay south of Fl G 4s 4M “1” as you head into the Eastern Branch. It has deeper water and more room to drop anchor than Yopps, but it doesn’t offer the same protection. In a squall, opt for snug Bridge Cove.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
Airport: Richmond Intl. Airport 804-221-3000
Coast Guard: Milford Haven 804-725-2125 or VHF 16
Police, Fire, Ambulance: 911
Taxi: Tri County Transportation 804-693-3475
Tow Service: Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW or VHF 16