- Planning your vacation in the area for a while, or tourists just passing through and need a place for overnight sleeping? Be sure to call ahead of time to book a hotel room, a cabin, or one of the other accommodations offered at Mark-Haven Beach. The facilities would be much in demand because it was one of only two such places in the area offering overnight sleeping accommodations for African-American travelers at that time (the other having been “The McGuire’s Home for Colored Tourists” in Tappahannock).
- Class reunion or some other group “get-together” in the making? Book what you will need—in ample time—for indoor and/or outdoor necessities to assure the most pleasurable and organized celebration. (Remember, other groups would be making their plans for the facility also).
- Kinfolk coming for a visit; kinfolk who left the rural (country) area long ago, heading for the big cities in the North—aunts, uncles, and cousins galore (first, second, third, and more) now coming back home—claiming they have a craving for some good ole down home country eating? Be not dismayed! Get out of your hot kitchen! Take them to Mark-Haven’s air conditioned dining room for the best home style, country cooking around, prepared by husband and wife co-chefs “Teeny” and Bessie Brown and served in grand fashion! Don’t let your kinfolk leave the area without carrying with them the memories of a full day of enjoyment at the beach resort—including the country eating, (Dutch treat).
- Church group planning a picnic outing for the elders and children alike? Make your plans and reserve your desired spot on the inviting, sandy shores of Mark-Haven Beach—long ahead of time (because other church groups would be making like plans for any given day of the summer season). Then…on your chosen day, stuff as many necessities as possible (such as picnic baskets, and the satchels with the swimming suits) into the trunks of the available cars—including the Reverend’s car. Are there necessities which cannot be contained within the trunks of the cars? No problem!…load them upon a deacon’s wagon—necessities such as watermelons, cantaloupes, the freezer containing the homemade peach ice cream, the chests of ice, one bedding down the Royal Crown and Nehi sodas, and another packing the raw hot dogs and hamburgers for grilling (no need to haul a grill for that was a staple of the picnic area). But, there would be the need for some blankets (for ground covering) and some folding chairs for the grandpas and the grandmas who would find it a chore to get down to the blankets on the ground and certainly…to rise again. Finally, some children who couldn’t fit into the available cars would be added to the cargo on the wagon. Then…“hitch your wagon to a horse” and journey to the Mark-Haven Beach for a never-to-be forgotten day of good times.
Thus was the thinking and demands for the Mark-Haven Beach resort, and the list could go on.
Mark-Haven Beach was conceived and born through the vision of a savvy entrepreneur. His vision was to rehabilitate and to develop, much more extensively, a parcel of waterfront property in the Rappahannock Magisterial District of Essex County, east of the village of Center Cross. The waterfront property, at one time, had been known as Jackson Beach. The entrepreneur, with the vision for the revival of the property, was Reginald “R. A.” Markham. His vision produced an establishment which had a heyday spanning from within the decade of the 1940s to the latter part of 1970.
R. A. Markham, whose name in time, would become synonymous with the name Mark-Haven Beach, arrived in Essex County in 1937, at a time when the nation, the state, and the locality were still in the process of recovering from the worse economic crisis that had been experienced—the Great Depression. That, however, did not deter Markham from delving into his first business venture in Essex County. Thus, he established a combination restaurant and entertainment center, Triangle Inn, that same year (1937). Later, a Texaco gasoline station was put on the site. Mark-Haven Beach would come in ten years.
Precisely on the eighth day of March, 1947, R. A. Markham sealed the deed in the Essex County Courthouse on a parcel of land purchased from James A. Jackson, and others of his family. The parcel—then called “Old Glebe”—had been purchased by Jackson in 1878, and contained one hundred and sixty (160) acres, a portion of which would be operated by Jackson as Jackson Beach. That parcel of 160 acres, purchased by Markham (in 1947), would, in short time, be increased by Markham’s purchase of an additional one hundred acres of adjacent property on the Rappahannock River. The source of the purchased additional acres is not known at this writing, but it is known that the total acreage of the Mark-Haven Beach Resort, during its life span, amounted to two hundred and sixty (260) acres.
Mark-Haven Beach was promoted through radio and TV spots, advertisements in the newspapers and magazines, brochures, and, of course, word of mouth by those who had lived the experience. The resort was accessible by all of the major state and interstate highways via state highway Route #17, the main thoroughfare through Essex County.
Exiting Route #17, onto a county route at Center Cross, led to the private entrance of the beach. The private property entrance was a distance of approximately one-half mile long. While wending the lane, through the archway formed by the spreading—sometimes overlapping—branches of the thicket of evergreen and deciduous trees flanking the entrance way, the gentle wind could be heard whispering through the branches and the sunshine, on a bright day, could be seen filtering between the leaves of the oaks, the pines, the loblollies, the elms, the firs, the cedars, the dogwoods, and many other species of nature’s beauty. Ecstasy!
Leaving the foliage behind, as also the blackberry and huckleberry bushes along the roadside, the point of destination would be reached, and the components that made up Mark-Haven Beach would become the focal point: the hotel (alternately called the lodge) enhanced by the shrubbery and flowers; the numerous cabins, the cottage; the outdoor recreation area, the vegetable gardens, the children’s playground, the picnic tables, and then…the sands of the two thousand feet of beach line, sloping down to meet the serene blue-green water of the beautiful Rappahannock River—often dotted with sailboats drifting or motorboats skimming the glistening water in the far back ground. Ecstasy!
Now…let’s take a closer look at the components that made up Mark-Haven Beach. Firstly, the Rappahannock River, of course, was the center piece of it all— the component that gave rise to its very existence. The river, local history tells us, was named by the Native American Indian, and the meaning of its name was “the rise and fall of the water” or “rising water.” The southern end of the river empties into the Chesapeake Bay. It runs northward to Fredericksburg and beyond. The Rappahannock River runs through a large parcel of land once, collectively, known as “Old Rappahannock County.” Thus, one part of the county was on the north side of the river, and the other part of the county was on the south side of the river. That posed a problem for the effective governing of the county at a time when the only means of crossing the river was by ferryboat. Thus, (simplifying here a deeply involved geographical matter) the governing officials of Old Rappahannock County petitioned the General Assembly of Virginia for an official division of the land into separate counties, thereby among them giving birth to Richmond County in the Northern Neck, and Essex County on the south side of the Rappahannock. It is said that Essex County, formed in 1692, was named for Essex County in England. Tappahannock, the county seat, like the Rappahannock River, is said, also, to have been named by the Native Indians and has the meaning “on the running (rising) waters.”
If the site that was once Mark-Haven Beach had possessed physical eyes, it would, no doubt, have been eye-witness to many events that played out on the historic Rappahannock River. Thus, the site probably would have witnessed some of what occurred during Captain John Smith’s quest to explore the water of the Rappahannock River Valley in 1608, and certainly the events that landed him at “Topahanocke” (Tappahannock) only just a short distant from the site where Mark-Haven was destined to be.
Too, physical eyes would have given the future Mark-Haven site a close-up view of the many slaves’ ships passing by, of which journeys had originated in the far-away Caribbean Sea with a destination of the dock in Jamestown, Virginia where it would unload a portion of its cargo before launching into the waters of the Rappahannock to dock at the Layton Wharf Warehouse in Essex County—on the same mission. Just a short distant northward from the Layton Wharf, the ships would pass the Mark-Haven site, forging the waters still farther northward to Fredericksburg, and points further north—on the same mission. Also, passing along that route were the gun boats of the Civil War making their way up-river to Fort Lowery in Dunnsville, the only Confederate water battery on the Rappahannock during the war, and just the matter of a few minutes in time, northward from the Mark-Haven site.
Then there were the steamboats, propeller-driven or paddle wheeling— ploughing the waters of the Rappahannock River on their journeys transporting agricultural exports, mail, and indeed, human passengers also up and down the eastern seaboard to Baltimore and points beyond, for eons. On, both, their journeys northward and their return journeys back to the southern points, those steamboats navigated pass the site of the Mark-Haven Beach, with their fog horns blaring to announce their arrival and departure at the six wharfs in Essex County, some in close proximity to the Mark-Haven site. Yes, if the site that once was Mark-Haven Beach could be animated to speak, reiterating what little that has been written here and the much more that has not, there may be found a need to write an additional chapter to the area’s history.
Taking a close-up look at another component that made up the Mark-Haven Beach establishment, there was the hotel, or lodge as it was alternately called. It had eighteen spacious and comfortably furnished bedrooms with two double beds in each room. Some of the rooms in the hotel were air conditioned. Maid service was provided. For those occupying a room on the east side of the facility, overlooking the river, it might not have been uncommon to look out of the window through the haze of the early morning grey mist to see in the far distant fishermen’s boats bobbing on the calm still water. Nor was it uncommon, in the evening dinner hour, in the dining room to see the “captured fruit of the fishermen’s labor” (or enjoyment) listed on the entrée of the menu as “catch of the day.” On another side of the hotel, some occupants might have looked out of the window of their room to see vegetables being picked from the early morning dew-drenched vines. Those vegetables would show up on the dinner menu, listed as “your choice of vegetable.” Daily fresh vegetables grown on the premises, and fresh seafood from the Rappahannock, were like signature trademarks of the resort. There was a vast variety of other choices as well. The lounge of the hotel offered guests the pleasure of meeting and greeting other occupants in the comfort of air-conditioned pleasure. HiFi radio and television provided enjoyable diversions in the lounge.
In addition to the hotel’s eighteen bedrooms, there were several cabins with bedrooms, making a total of an additional sixteen. Each of the several cabins had private baths, a screened porch, and some had a three-room suite.
And still more—there was the cottage, available for an entire family togetherness. It had a kitchen for the preparation of private meals. There were also a living room, two spacious bedrooms, sufficient for portable cots; a private bath, and a spacious screened porch.
Recreation choices at the resort were numerous for, both, indoor and outdoor enjoyment. They included fishing from the pier, crabbing, swimming, hiking, croquet, dancing, cards and other table games, ping-pong, pool, horseshoes, and more. Fish-fries and barbeques on the premises were proclaimed as “second to none.”
Reginald "R. A." Markham
Reginald “R. A.” Markham relocated to Essex County from the state of New York, where he was born in Long Island and earned his education in the city of New York, including his graduation from the City College of New York. He earned a degree in business management. He was also a gifted violinist having played in a symphony orchestra in New York. His parents were Reginald and Eliza Markham. He served, honorably, in the United States Army.
In Essex County, he married a Tappahannock native, the former Gertrude Johnson, and they established their home in Tappahannock. They adopted one son. In brevity, in addition to savvy as a shrewd businessman, he was active in the civic, social, and educational affairs of the county. He was a member of Grace Episcopal Church, having served as senior warden, and as treasurer; he was the first African American to be appointed to the Essex County School Board after serving the system of education in various other capacities. Additionally, he held membership in the Essex Masonic Lodge.
Entrepreneur Markham was not finished with planting his footprints on the sand of time in Essex County when he ceased the operation of his initial business ventures in the county. Rather, with termination of the Mark-Haven Beach resort after the summer season of 1970, Markham had blueprints already drawn for his next venture. Thus, he established the first brick complex of town houses in Tappahannock. That establishment led to the creation of a street in his honor—namely, “Markham Terrace.” The Terrace will be an eternal testimonial legacy to the impact R. A. Markham made in Essex County.
Born on September 10, 1910, Mr. Markham died on September 11, 1993.
By Lillian H. McGuire—contributing writer
Photos courtesy of the Essex County Museum