Buckroe Beach, a neighborhood of Hampton, Virginia, lies just north of Fort Monroe on the Chesapeake Bay.
The area began to be populated in 1619 when the “Buck Roe” Plantation was designated for public use for the newly arrived English settlers of the Virginia Company of London. In 1620, the London Company sent Frenchmen to teach the colonists grape and silkworm culture. By 1637, however, Buck Roe Plantation had joined the rest of the colony as a tobacco field. Later it became a fishing camp used by black and white fishermen.
Its life as a recreational area began in 1882 when the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway extended its tracks to the site. Mary Ann Dobbins Herbert opened a boarding house for summer visitors the following year. In 1884, a public bathhouse was built, and tourists were brought in horse-drawn carriages.
Soon, a regional entrepreneur expanded the site through a trolley line and began to build a nine-acre amusement park. The Buckroe Beach Amusement Park opened in 1895. In 1897, a local entrepreneur extended his electric trolley car line to Buckroe, opening a hotel and a pavilion for dancing. Next came cottages, shops, restaurants, and more hotels. The Buckroe Civic Association was created, and a school was built.
In 1898, several businessmen purchased a beachfront for African Americans next to Buckroe Beach, naming it Bay Shore Beach & Resort. This amusement park and vacation destination rivaled the popularity of Buckroe Beach while racial segregation was still in effect. Bay Shor Beach became one of the most popular resort and vacation destinations in the Mid-Atlantic region for African-Americans. In addition to standard beach activities, hotels, and restaurants, Bay Shore also had an amusement park.
Buckroe Beach had an elaborate Kiddy Land with attractions such as a boat ride, a car ride, a small Ferris wheel, and a train ride. Buckroe Beach’s first roller coaster was a small one called the Jack Rabbit, which was replaced by the classic white wooden Dips roller coaster in 1920. That year an elaborate carousel with 48 intricately hand-carved wooden horses, two stately chariots, and a band organ was added. Other rides included the Scrambler, the Octopus, Flying Cages, a Tilt-A-Whirl, a Funhouse, Bumper Cars, Mini Golf, and the Paratrooper, an adult Ferris wheel with a spectacular view. There were also many games of chance and skill.
Both Buckroe Beach and Bay Shore were hit by a hurricane in 1933 that devastated the coast. Both resorts were rebuilt, but Bay Shore may not have been built back to its former heights, although it remained popular. A storm in the 1940s partially destroyed the Buckroe Hotel and was subsequently demolished.
Until World War II, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway provided summer excursion service to Buckroe, using its tracks and trolley tracks from Phoebus to Buckroe. The Buckroe amusement park was in its prime during the 1950s-1960s, drawing in visitors from the Hampton Roads area and many visitors from other states.
When desegregation began in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act, Bay Shore’s popularity declined, and it was closed in 1973. The Bay Shore, Beach Resort Hotel, was torn down in October 1977.
Attendance at Buckroe Beach also decreased as newer and larger theme parks opened in the region in the mid-1970s, including Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and Kings Dominion in Doswell near Richmond. Coupled with the high cost of rides, maintenance, and insurance, many small parks, including Buckroe Beach, became unprofitable. In 1985, Buckroe Beach Amusement Park closed. At that time, it had 22 rides and ten games.
It was abandoned until 1991, when most of it was scrapped for lumber and parts. This included the classic white wooden roller coaster, which, at the time, was the oldest roller coaster in the United States and the second oldest coaster in the world.
The park owners had an offer to sell the carousel, which had stood for nearly 65 years, to a group in Portland, Oregon. However, the city of Hampton convinced them to sell it to Hampton to keep it in the area. It is now housed at the city’s downtown waterfront and was restored to its original beauty in 1991. Carousel Park is located at 602 Settlers Landing Road in Hampton, Virginia.
All that is left of the amusement park today is the functioning lighthouse from the miniature golf course.
Today Buckroe Beach and Park, bordering the Chesapeake Bay, has three-quarters of a mile of clean beach. It features the Buckroe Beach fishing pier known for its cobia fishing, luring many fishermen on summer days. It also has a large pavilion that regularly has performances. Along with the pavilion, there are usually food and ice cream vendors. There is a children’s playground, and kayaks, chairs, and umbrellas can be rented. Lifeguards are on duty Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, May 2023.
Lost Landmarks and Vanished Sites
Hampton Parks & Recreation
Carousel of Chaos
Buckroe Historical Society
Wikipedia – Buckroe Beach
Wikipedia – Bay Shore Beach