Christ Prokos Jr. and his wife Cecelia are new property owners in Washington and will be moving here in three years.
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People, not buildings, make a great town
For several years, my wife and I have discussed relocating out of south Florida as the ties that bound us here gradually untied themselves. Mom passed away in 2003, Dad joined her in 2006, and my 22-year-old stepson left home last summer. With our daughter in high school, a quick re-evaluation of our situation found we could be cleared for takeoff as early as 2010. We needed a comprehensive game plan, starting with a relocation destination.
Cecilia, a native of Birmingham, Ala., wanted the simplicity of the country life: Four seasons, sincere people, sweet iced tea with the big meal in the middle of the day, and harvest fairs. It didn’t help matters when I ordered a subscription to Country Living magazine for her.
Born and raised on Miami’s Biscayne Bay, I recently acquired my sailing certification and wanted to live near open water. I also wanted someplace historical that was friendly to outdoor enthusiasts (mostly cycling, kayaking, and fishing).
Our eyes glazed over as we peered through the magnifying glass at the map. Where to consider … “Pacific Northwest?” I asked. “Too rainy,” Cecilia flatly replied without looking up.
Our search continued. Bookstores, Internet, tea leaves, a Magic 8-Ball. We left no stone unturned but could only come up with a list of places where we didn’t want to live.
Then one day I stumbled upon a magazine that focused on the best places to retire. We were not ready to retire, but it was worth a look for new ideas. One article mentioned New Bern and made reference to Little Washington. We had considered North Carolina because of my family roots in Statesville and this sounded like it was worth further scrutiny.
As I flew into Raleigh, our goodwill ambassador and real estate agent, Jay Martin, left a message on my cell phone detailing what to expect on the two-hour drive through Greenville to Washington. He mentioned that the roads were nice and he was right. Compared to the minefield conditions of South Florida, Highway 264 was like a magic carpet that carried me to the Heart of the Inner Banks.
Upon my arrival, the first thing that impressed me was the “home-grown” nature of Washington. There were no cookie-cutter chain stores that are so common elsewhere. It was refreshing to see each and every establishment as something new and different that gave Washington its distinctive flavor.
A fascination with American history has given me a weakness for roadside historical markers. Like a moth to a flame, I slowed to read them as I drove around town. There is enough history here to keep any buff busy for quite some time. I strolled through the cemetery at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and also drove to Bath for the afternoon. I promised myself that my next visit would not be complete without taking the authentic walking tour of “Little Washington.”
As you drive through Miami’s Little Havana, you occasionally pass big fiberglass roosters painted in vibrant colors. In Miami Lakes, once dairy land, you find painted, fiberglass cows grazing in front of various office buildings. I couldn’t help but repeatedly drive around Washington, searching for all the decorative fiberglass crabs. Each one had its own charm and personality. I took photo after photo to share back home.
Of all that I saw and experienced during my four-day visit to Washington, I was most impressed with its people. Each person I encountered had a limitless positive attitude about the town and its future: from Jay Martin at The Rich Company; to John Tate; Grant Tew; Barbara Schatz at the Morris Agency; Joseph Ladaga and his staff at the Hampton Inn; Laura, Kathy and the crew at Backwater Jack’s; the ladies at the Turnage Theater; Christi at Southern Cheers; the staff of Down on Main Street; Rev. Kevin Johnson, Rev. Donald Wiesner and the parishioners of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church just to name a few. People were eager to offer their assessment of the town and reassure me that I would love it as they did.
Washingtonians I met during my visit were upbeat and optimistic. Everyone wanted to know how I discovered Little Washington. They took the time to share their stories of Inner Banks enlightenment, and each and every one ended our brief chance meeting with variations of the same sentiment: Settling in Washington was the best move they ever made.
It was then that I came to realize that it is not the buildings or landmarks that make a town, but the outlook of the citizens, a welcome thought that was refreshing after so many years in South Florida. I left convinced that Washington is where we belong.