Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Whispering Pines

 In Loving Memory

Perhaps “In Loving Memory” sounds too strong for a building, but, well, it just seems to fit in this instance. However, for many of us who have lived here on the Eastern Shore long enough to consider ourselves “shoremen” – or shorewomen as the case may be, we remember the Pines lovingly… going there on a date, before the prom, or with your family after church.Whisp Pines dining rm For many of us, it was our special dining room, where we would take company for a special meal, where friends would stay when they passed thru the shore. I dunno, it just seemed kind of our most famous landmark here south of the Assateague lighthouse. Folks have called it elegant, gracious, a symbol of fine dining, fine living… As a kid, I learned about camellias there. I saw my very first Pink Perfection at the Pines. Folks used to “sneak” out back after dinner and swipe (pruning, we called it) a nice bouquet to take home from the awesome collection of magnificent blooms. From the highway, in season, one noticed the huge azaleas on both sides of the road (old 13.) They were probably the first azaleas I ever really noticed since they were so big and beautiful and there were so many of them. I decided back then that my place would one day look like that. And I have done my best to make it happen.Whispering Pines card

A number of years ago, the last of the older generation of Russell’s died and the property was sold. None of the family wanted the stress of running the motel and most famous dining spot on the shore. Perhaps they all knew they would never be able to do it as well as the previous generation… they all had other interests… and maintaining the standards that preceded them, well, it would have indeed been quite a task. Anyway, the property was sold… I will not mention the man’s name who bought it, as he is not worth being remembered. He came down here and took an Eastern Shore icon, a treasure, and ran it into the ground in almost a year. He fired all the staff bringing in folks with different standards, replacing a chef with a short order cook, eliminated tablecloths, replaced glassware with plastic… then cut down about 50 pine trees, ripped out dozens of azaleas, and put up a modern tacky, poorly built truck-stop type motel alongside the elegant colonial architecture of the older Pines. The new staff was, um, not in the least schooled in Southern genteel courtesy… they were schooled in, um, a brand of room service we were unaccustomed to. The Soda Shoppe became a bar. Somebody actually painted the word MOTEL on the roof of the new addition. The locals who had eaten and patronized the Pines for most of their lives not only avoided it like the plague, but got so we averted our eyes so we could not see what it had become.

It did not take many years before the shoddy workmanship showed itself in the added on motel. The roof caved in, sections were not repaired, just closed. And in time, the whole place was all but abandoned. It is hard to believe that there is an entire generation now that has no idea where or what The Whispering Pines is, or was.

Anyway, we here on the Shore have been plagued with an arsonist – or arsonists – as some of the fires are copycat burnings. We have had approximately 66 fires since November. The arsonist took a break over Whispering Pines WAVYThanksgiving and again from Christmas Eve until mid- January. Obviously we are dealing with a very sick and angry individual – but I am sure you know the profiling that goes with these types of individuals. On the good side, if there is one, we are now minus about 60 old abandoned buildings – tho a few of buildings actually still in use have been burned, too, including a hanger about a half a mile from my house that still had electricity in it, and outside light burning, and a plane in one side. It was definitely not an old abandoned building.

Night after night a spotter plane flies over watching for new fires. The police have a couple of promising leads as to who it might have been… you know the profile. Cameras are “hidden” around some buildings and the guy has been taped. We just need Abby from NCIS to work on that image and we will have him. Perhaps… in time. They are pretty sure they know approximately where he lives.  

Whisp Pines burnedWe all wondered when “he” would get around to the Pines… and last night he did. I have borrowed these shots but am not sure who should get credit. The oldest picture is a post card from the Pines during its hey-day. I think the fire pictures are from WAVY TV 10.

I drove by this morning after feeding Charlie’s cats. I just had to see it. I have avoided even looking at it for so long, it hurt so much. One of the Russell boys was there along with a fireman keeping watch as it smoldered. He and I hugged and shed a few tears and shared stories of our youth and the many hours spent at the Pines, the folks who once worked there, even remembering the cars some of them drove. Really, it was just like being at a funeral.

Oh, the memories…

A satellite image of the Whispering Pines area in Accomack County, VA. Click the map image to see more detail and to pan and zoom.



Sissy said...

This arson binge was in the main news this morning and I wondered while reading if it might be near you; and so it is. I hope they catch the bugger and burn him a new one. It saddens me to see landmarks disappear; actually I don't like progress so much; nothing left from my childhood memories.

troutbirder said...

I hope they catch him sooner because latter might see someone die. Be careful....

Ginnie said...

As you say ... at least the old buildings are gone. So sad to see a whole era disappear.
I agree with Troutbirder ... be careful.

Peter said...

Hi Possum.

I'm a photographer in Charlottesville, VA (my web site or

My parents have a place in Chincoteague, where I've been going for 30 years and for the last few years, I've been struck by (and photographing) the abandoned structures along Rt 13 in VA, since well before the arsons. I recently visited the ruins of the Whispering Pines.

I'd like to talk to you some time. If you're willing, please send your contact info (monticelloroad [at] culturecurrent com

Hope to hear from you soon!

Peter Krebs
Charlottesville, VA

Peter said...

Possom: Try peter [at] culturecurrent [dot] com or 434-465-9869

As it happens I was just at the Whispering Pines a few days ago.

Would love to talk!

Peter Krebs