Tucked away in time
Posted on 10 November 2008
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Capt. John Smith waded into the waters over the sandy shoal reaching far out into Chesapeake Bay. The water was so clear he could see the swarms of fish swimming around him. Not one to miss a good opportunity, he began spearing them with his broadsword. But a stingray can hide even in clear water. It buries itself just under the sand and waits.
When Smith stepped on the ray, its reaction came swiftly, instinctively. The tail lashed out and pierced the flesh. The captain’s pained cry brought his men, who helped him ashore. So severe was the agony from the sting that he instructed them to dig his grave there on the beach, overlooking the waters of the Chesapeake that he loved.
The pain eventually subsided, helped — the story goes — by a poultice brought to him by Indian friends who had raced off in canoes to the creek we now call Antipoison Creek, around what is now known as Windmill Point. Small wonder that the point on which John Smith prepared to remain for eternity in 1608 is now Stingray Point.
Smith moved on, but many later came to stay, forming the small village of Deltaville, Va., on the point’s peninsula. With fertile land and protected creeks and bays, it began as a home for seafarers and farmers. Even today, locals from surrounding rural counties consider Deltaville corn and Deltaville tomatoes a specialty. On the lower part of the peninsula, the watermen became the backbone of the community. Deltaville, for many years, was known as the “boatbuilding capital of the Chesapeake,” turning out skipjacks, deadrise workboats, steel-hulled offshore trawlers and yachts.
Today, boating and farming are still mainstays of the area, but the crops — at first carried away in sailing vessels and then steamers — are now taken by truck. And although local watermen still work the waters, most of the boating consists of pleasure boats.
Its popularity to boaters is obvious from the fact that while there are only around 800 permanent residents, there are around 3,000 boats that dock there. The number of marinas, yards and marine-related services often surprises city-folk boaters. When you pass by on the Bay, the shoreline gives little clue of what’s there. The marinas and yards are tucked away into the creeks and coves. Once ashore, you find that much of what you may want to access, other than what’s at the facility where you’ve docked, is “down the road.” And there are several roads.
Deltaville isn’t an “official” town. It’s not incorporated. There is no town government, and there are no town taxes, only those of Middlesex County, of which it is a part. Under a rural county zoning plan, it doesn’t have the density of business centers you find clustered around the water in other port areas. “Things are all spread out,” as one local puts it, “but we like it that way.”
Usually when stores and other facilities are spread out, transient boaters have a difficult time getting around unless they have bicycles. But in Deltaville this isn’t much of a problem. The marina often will help you get to a place (some will loan a car if it’s available), the restaurant or shop will pick you up, or you can just start walking and someone may stop, ask if you’re from a boat and if you need a ride. This is not just a boating community; it is “country.”
Understanding this will help you understand the uniqueness of the area as you pull into port or drop anchor. You haven’t arrived at a fancy high steppin’ condo-ized resort custom tailored to serve yachts. You’ve arrived at a community of boaters and boats that’s grown as such over several centuries.
This community has far more than you’d imagine. There are not one, but two West Marine stores a short distance apart. Auto parts stores are also boat equipment stores. Hurd’s Hardware is one of those priceless country hardware stores that has a little of everything, along with a staff that knows what it is. “A little of everything” includes a large selection of marine-related items. There’s also a rigging shop, canvas shop, sail loft, diving services, mechanic shops, engine shops and much more. The one thing you must understand when you come here, however, is that you’re likely to find yourself on Island Time. True, it’s a peninsula, not an island. But it’s Deltaville, and Deltaville is on Island Time. Sometimes I think they invented it.
But the local folks do get things done. Deltaville citizens accomplish on a volunteer basis the things they need as a community. The Deltaville Community Association (www.deltavilleva.com) is a group of citizens who, on a volunteer basis, provide many of the things that “government” does in incorporated towns and cities. These include a Heritage Day, coinciding with the Fourth of July and featuring parades, art, food, contests and other events, and good old-fashioned Saturday night baseball games at their baseball field. Over the years they’ve built a community swimming pool, a ball field and a tennis court, established a volunteer fire department, and taken care of many other things — without a big government, thank you.