THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Sunday, April 21, 1996 TAG: 9604170043 SECTION: REAL LIFE PAGE: K5 EDITION: FINAL SERIES: OBSCURE TOUR LOCAL LANDMARKS THE TOUR BOOKS NEVER MENTION SOURCE: BY EARL SWIFT, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: Medium: 56 lines
IN A FOREST of pine and live oak within earshot of the Atlantic's rumbling surf lie the ghosts of a once-thriving village.
For nearly half a century, Wash Woods was home to a Coast Guard lifesaving station, a grocery store, two churches, a school and dozens of families in southern Virginia Beach.
Three hundred people once lived here, earning a living as watermen, farmers, hunting guides and lifeboatmen.
Today, Wash Woods has all but vanished. An old church steeple rises from the foundation of the building it once crowned. Trees, ferns and vines interrupt what's left of the town's earthen main road. Headstones tangled in sticker bushes dot a long-neglected cemetery.
But its whispers of old Virginia Beach, and of the impermanence of things man-made, make the Wash Woods townsite a melancholy, strangely calming place worthy of a visit.
Not that it's easy to do. Its ruins are located on False Cape, the narrow strip of sand south of Sandbridge that marks the northernmost reach of the Outer Banks.
The cape is a state park, but because it's separated from Sandbridge by the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, you can't drive to it: You have to park at the refuge, walk several miles to the park's entrance, then hike another handful of miles to Wash Woods.
There you'll find signs directing you to the townsite. A walk down the vestigial main road will take you to the church steeple, and a depiction of the same steeple atop the church at the century's turn.
The steeple and nearby cemetery aside, the area probably looks much as it did in 1880, when Wash Woods' first buildings were erected.
In those days, mariners occasionally mistook False Cape for Cape Henry, which too often led to their driving their ships onto the sandbars just offshore. All those wrecks made for a surplus of lumber on the cape's beaches, and that wood eventually became homes and businesses at Wash Woods.
Unfortunately, the town - like the Sandbridge neighborhood to its north - was pounded by storms, flooded by the ocean. By the 1920s the sea had inundated the narrow sliver of sand so often that townspeople began to abandon the place. Everyone was gone by the '30s.
That a half-century of human habitation has been so erased by dunes and forest is testament to man's powerlessness before the force of nature.
It's also mighty pretty.
If you're up for a visit, bring water: The refuge and state park have none.
And don't forget your bug spray. by CNB