How Old Do Little Girls Stop Playing With Pretend Kitchens Moore’s Brick Cottages and Lake, a Trace of Vintage Virginia Expires

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Moore’s Brick Cottages and Lake, a Trace of Vintage Virginia Expires

It’s summer in pre-World War II Virginia, and life is easy—and blazing hot.

Where do you go to escape the heat?

Moore’s Lake!

The popular swimming spot right off US Route One between Richmond and Petersburg was the most refreshing refuge from the humidity and steamy dog ​​days west of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. It was a Mecca for locals looking for a few hours of blessed relief and a major vacation destination for tourists from all over the state. People were drawn to the huge sandy beach, the water slides, the high diving board where giggling girls gathered to watch the boys perform, and the adjacent ballroom that filled the evening air with Big Band tunes. Everyone who entered the bathhouse was given a distinguishing pin, which they later used to pick up their clothes after bathing. Today, brass badges are prized by many old-timers who wear them as lapel ornaments.

Tommy Crump, whose parents bought the lake and surrounding cabins after several years of working for RD Moore, the original owner, recalls that hundreds of families from as far away as North Carolina returned year after year. People driving from the north to Florida soon learned that it was an ideal overnight stop, both en route and on arrival. For locals, Moore’s Lake was the place to be and be seen. It was inevitable that sunny afternoons and moonlit evenings were responsible for untold romances. Many have blossomed in marriage.

Built by Moore in 1929, the sturdy brick and stone cottages were the epitome of luxury when George and Lena Crump took over the business. They quickly upgraded them further by adding bathrooms. As the Depression eased and tourists clamored for their amenities and forest setting, they built more cabins in the fragrant woods until there were 38. By 1941, they had built a restaurant and their own comfortable brick home on the property.

When World War II broke out and Camp Lee in nearby Petersburg was reactivated (renamed Fort Lee in 1950), some of the soldiers stationed there brought their families and housed them in cabins at Moore’s Lake. Several of their wives found work as waitresses in a busy restaurant that served three meals a day to lodge guests, local residents and defense personnel commuting to work at nearby military installations. To defray costs, the older children of service families who stayed behind contributed to the war effort by becoming useful as bus drivers, dishwashers, gardeners, and lifeguards.

Tommy Crump, now 68, was a toddler then. He was under the watchful eye of a nanny as he peddled his tricycle through the picturesque lanes to claim a tasty treat from the kitchen of the restaurant serving guests of Moore’s Brick Cottages and Moore’s Lake. Growing up in a spacious home built by his parents, he learned to swim in the lake and appreciate the beauty and unique setting of the property. It was only natural that he never strayed, but chose to stay and raise his own children there.

In 1970, he and his wife bought cottages, an adjacent gas station and a restaurant. The re-christened restaurant Sylvester’s was destined to become the most popular restaurant for miles around. Along with a delicious crowd-pulling prime rib dinner, the menu featured succulent seafood, savory soups, croissant-wiches, stuffed potatoes and scrumptious homemade desserts, including double chocolate silk cake and hot fruit ham.

Moore’s Brick Cottages thrived until the nearby construction of Interstate 95 lured cars and trucks away from the venerable Jefferson Davis Highway, sealing the operation’s fate. With the advent of high-speed highways across the country, families discovered the allure of the open road. No longer content with vacations close to home, tourists raced from Boston to Miami in a fraction of the time it would take on an antiquated two-lane road. As large motels and hotels sprang up along the Interstate to serve long-distance travelers, it didn’t take long for Moore’s Brick Cottages to become redundant. Buildings fell into disrepair and those who came to swim took their chances without lifeguards on duty. Today, the lake is little more than an unattended neighborhood swimming pool.

However, Sylvester’s continued to prosper. It catered to a loyal local clientele until December 2004 when Tommy Crump sold the property to a developer. The office park and retail businesses rising on top of the bulldozers will serve the city of Chester. Tommy watched with brimming eyes as all but two of the quaint houses were torn down and their rubble used as parking lot fill.

“I feel an obligation to save these last two as part of history,” he says. “I’m keeping one for myself and having it moved to my property along the James River. My hope is that someone – or some concerned organization – will take the other and preserve it for posterity.”

We have no applicants yet, time is running out. Soon, only the ghosts of halcyon days past will hover over the land, which is still protected by gigantic aromatic trees waiting to be destroyed in the name of progress.

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