SPARK – Southern Peninsula Amateur Radio Klub

I finally joined a local club – they meet on the first Tuesday of every month and I went to the first meeting earlier tonight. Great group of folks with a good sense of humor.

One interesting fact that I found out was the club used to have their repeater on top of the Chamberlain Hotel… the historic hotel located on Fort Monroe.

Here’s an interesting story I found about the hotel:

I and my family would spend a bit of our spring vacation at the Chamberlain Hotel at “Old Point Comfort” in Hampton, Virginia across the street from Fort Monroe. My folks spent their honeymoon there in 1948, hence our annual visits. She was an aging lady, even then. Now no more.

“Old Point Comfort became a popular tourist destination in the early to mid 1800s around the same time Virginia was gaining popularity for her hot springs. Like the hot springs, salt water bathing as well as the salty bay air was believed to have revitalizing and health restorative properties, not to mention the social aspects. This waterside building is the historic Chamberlain Hotel on Fort Monroe at Old Point Comfort. It was designed in the Georgian style by Richmond architect Marcellus Wright after the original Vanderbilt-Chamberlain Hotel, built in 1890 on the same spot, burned to the ground in 1920. The new hotel opened in 1928 and operated until November of 2001, when the Hotel closed its doors forever. A development company is now refitting and cleaning up the hotel and turning it into expensive retirement condominiums.¹”

We three were given free rein to roam the premises. Oh, we weren’t to go out on the steamship pier (destroyed in a storm in the mid-60’s) unless accompanied by an adult, but otherwise, we could roam the grounds and the beach with impunity, play billiards, shuffleboard or pingpong in the game room if the weather turned foul, or swim to our heart’s content in the indoor, heated salt-water swimming pool. Such fun floating supported like a bobbing cork in the blood-warm salt water straight from the Bay.

If hungry, we could get a bite from the snack bar. Or a whole meal, if we were willing to get dressed, could be obtained in the dining room. Here I met up with grits, red beans and gravy, corn pone, and oysters, raw and cooked in all manner of dishes. Here, my mother honed our manners as we sat at table with real linens and silverware, using hotel crockery and stemware. None of the plastic Melamine and steel forks and spoons that passed for our everyday fare on the farm in the country where I grew up.

The staff had that lovely lilt to their language common to Virginia and Maryland, still understandable to this Yankee, but exotic and hinting of amusement and charm that folks at the feed store could never muster. It isn’t just a place but an era. There I met my first General and saw my first President (Eisenhower) and four star generals from a distance. Soldiers of all sorts would grab lunch at the hotel, rather than suffer a sandwich at their desks. It was a regular thing for big black limousines from Washington, D.C. to pull up and discharge their big-wig passengers at the hotel or across the street at Fort Monroe. There I honed my eye at identifying the war ships passing by outside the window… everything from tenders, mine sweepers and captain’s gigs to destroyers, cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers. One day, three submarines went by in the space of four hours! For a country boy, it was magical.

And the girls… oh my. I gave and lost my heart more times than I can count over the years to Southern Belles. The combination of that first spring warmth after the grip of a northern winter, the heady freedom of unsupervised time, the young women on vacation from Richmond and Atlanta and Washington, D.C. — it was magic. My first real kiss was at the Hotel Chamberlain. Later dalliances were even more memorable.

{Is it hot in here?}

My last trip there was 1966, a year after my mother died. I was older and much wiser. I could see the old girl had aged. The floors were warped from forty years of salt air. Furnishing were a little frayed, rugs threadbare in spots. And yet, I miss the place, the actual building, the genteel company, the sense of infinite time spread out before me. Oh lordy, youth is truly wasted on the young.