“Excellent Salt Water Bathing!” “Ease of Access! “Every Conceivable Form of Moral Amusement!” The early 20-century ads from the Newport News Daily Press and the Richmond Times-Dispatch encouraging residents to “Spend Your Vacation at Buckroe Beach!” are quaint reminders that this stretch of Chesapeake Bay beachfront has been open to the public for generations.
But the ads only tell part of the story. Set aside by the earliest English colonists in 1619 for public use, by 1637 the site had become a commercial tobacco plantation, by the 1800s a fishing camp, and finally—around the time of the ads—a segregated resort and amusement park that would integrate after the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. Until then, the popular black resort, Bay Shore Beach, was just up the beach and separated by a fence.
Over the next decade, usage of the beach by both blacks and whites declined, and the opening of Busch Gardens in 1975 presented the beach with competition for people’s leisure time. Sand dredging in 1990 to replenish the shoreline necessitated closings of the beach for the next three years to sweep for shells fired from Fort Monroe during WWII training exercises. While there were no explosions on the beach, the sweeps with metal detectors found more than 100 shells or casings.
Today, Buckroe Beach is “Hampton’s best kept secret,” says Kay Sumner, deputy director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “Based on the number of people who enjoy it, though, it’s not such a secret.”
Five thousand people attend “Grooving by the Bay” alone, Sumner adds. The music festival takes place every Sunday evening of the beach season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and features area bands playing R&B, funk, jazz, beach music, and more.
The city decided to protect the 28-acre site as permanent public open space by donating an easement on it to VOF in 2010. The beach is free to the public and extends three-quarters of a mile, with a one-half mile cement boardwalk and views of the Atlantic Ocean through the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
For $8.00, visitors can access Buckroe Beach Pier, which is equipped with a bait shop, snack bar, and restrooms, and offers anglers the possibility of nabbing spot, croaker, and perhaps the area’s most sought-after catch, the cobia—a fish that can reach to up to 100 pounds.
Official fishing season begins in April and ends in October, and potential anglers don’t need a license to fish off the pier.
Other amenities include lifeguards from May to September, a children’s playground and food trucks, and kayak, umbrella, and beach chair rentals. There’s even a farmers’ market on Saturdays. After September, the beach is still open for a stroll with oceanside views.
Improvements to the site are always being made. “We really try to meet citizens’ requests,” Sumner says.
Or, as the old ad in the Richmond Times-Dispatch put it: “Buckroe Beach Is BETTER This Year Than EVER Before!”
For hours in-season and off, park rules, and more, see https://hampton.gov/3503/Buckroe-Beach-Park.