To miss out on an icon
Published 6:44 pm Monday, July 29, 2019
While sitting on my front porch and looking toward the south side of the Pamlico River I recall the icon that stood for 65 years and four generations of the Whichard family, which is now missing. It entertained children and adults and provided public access to swim and camp. Whichard’s Beach, as we knew it, is now the site of several big, beautiful homes.
Originally purchased by Mr. William Henry Whichard in 1938 as farm land, it did not take him long to realize that he was sitting on a gold mine. Just off of U.S. Highway 17 where tourists traveled both north and south and wanted a place to access the river, he soon opened up Whichard’s Beach. The original building was an old Army barracks that was reassembled on the shores of the river. It was enlarged at least three times and the dance hall upstairs would hold between 750 to 1,000 people. People could rent anything needed to swim, from bathing suits to water masks.
In 1954, Hurricane Hazel did much damage to the site, just as it did all of Beaufort County. Much of the hard work Mr. Whichard had put into making it a tourist site was destroyed, including his long, 400-foot pier. Shortly thereafter, he replaced the pier, this time with a 200-foot pier. The marina, opened in 1952, was an old chicken coup converted to a marina building and enlarged, and it was also destroyed. This time, Mr. Whichard added the first Evinrude franchise and sold the very popular Scott Atwater boat. This marina had the first concrete boat ramp in the early ’50s where visitors could unload their boats and purchase supplies before heading out on the river for the day.
Still, it was the very popular dance hall that attracted many people. It was opened every Saturday night from 1945 until it closed and was a very popular spot for Marines and members of other branches of the Armed Forces. Residents from all around Beaufort County found this a popular attraction. The first band to play was Bob Jones and The Bobcats, and it later featured such great bands as The Embers and Clarence Carter. Many friendships were made in the dance hall and proved to be one of the longest-lasting beach clubs in the Carolinas.
It was in 1965 that a young Warren Whichard, who had been farming, took over the business for his dad. Mr. Warren was a friend to many of the teenagers on the river at that time and had experience in the marina and tourist businesses. We bought many tanks of gas from Mr. Warren and, like everywhere else, you could charge it and be on your way.
Mr. Warren soon added a waterslide and campground that only brought more people to Beaufort County and Whichard’s Beach. The sandy bottom off the long pier attracted swimmers of all ages who camped and stayed overnight. Still, it was always known by me for the dance hall. There were two places as a teenager I could not go, Whichard’s Beach and the pool halls. It was not the dance hall but Whichard’s Beach Road that scared my mother. A road that had many curves scared my mom and she asked me not to go.
I could sit on our pier on a Saturday night and hear the band playing across the river and still miss that today. Thanks to the Whichard family for bringing so much fun to banks of the Pamlico and also for bringing many people together. Even though I could not attend, I can now appreciate all that their family did for residents and visitors to our county. I was the one that missed out!
They were the best of times with the best of friends and in the best of places — Washington, N.C.!
— Harold Jr.
Harold Robinson Jr. is a native of Washington.