Newly named Virginia Beach historic districts protected from future development

VIRGINIA BEACH — Three historical areas at the Beach now exist in new historic cultural districts after city council unanimously passed a vote to establish the zones.

The Seatack Life Saving Station, the Virginia Beach Coast Guard Station and the DeWitt Cottage join the list of other historically significant spots city staff will preserve like the Adam Thoroughgood House and Church Point Manor.

City staff will work to prevent environmental damage to the structures and ensure that new buildings and uses in the district are consistent with the historical character of the preserved area, according to the city’s website.

Here’s a closer look at the newly adopted areas:

The historic Old Coast Guard Station at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
The historic Virginia Beach Coast Guard Station at the Oceanfront. (Justin Belichis/SouthsideDaily)

Virginia Beach Coast Guard Station

Before the Oceanfront was known for tourism, Kathryn Fisher, executive director of the Virginia Beach Surf and Rescue Museum, said there wasn’t much there in the 19th century.

“If you go back to the year 1870, there was nothing along the Oceanfront. Maybe a little fishing shack here and there, but really nothing.” Fisher said. “The United States Life Saving Service came about and it was their duty to offer help to those who got in shipwrecks.”

The Virginia Beach Coast Guard Station was established in 1878 in association with the U.S. Life Saving Service, which eventually became the Coast Guard in 1915, according to Fisher.

Seatack Life Saving Station 

Before it was known at the Virginia Beach Coast Guard Station, the structure on Atlantic Avenue was known as the Seatack Life Saving Station. The name change came sometime in the early 20th century after the city built a larger building on the property, according to Fisher.

“It morphed over the years,” Fisher said. “Depending on what year you’re talking about was which service it technically fell under and which name it technically fell under, but it was all the same thing.”

Congress added it to the Virginia National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

“Seatack men who were fishing in the Atlantic Ocean would pull people to safety after a shipwreck in the early 1800s,” the Seatack Civic League’s website states. “Black men of Seatack were life-savers before America ever had a U.S. Coast Guard.”

Congress appointed the station’s first keeper named Edward Drinkwater in 1878, who refused to let black men from Seatack serve under him, according to the civic league.

Built in 1895, the DeWitt Cottage is considered to be one of the first brick buildings built at the Oceanfront.
Built in 1895, the DeWitt Cottage is considered to be one of the first brick buildings built at the Oceanfront. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

DeWitt Cottage 

This historic building made waves at the Oceanfront in 1895 for being one of the first brick homes in the area, according to Lynn Hightower, director of the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum.

“It was built in 1895 by Mr. Bernard P. Holland, who also happened to be our first mayor in 1906 when the city of Virginia Beach was first incorporated as a town,” Hightower said. “He actually built the house as a wedding present for his new bride Emily and they lived here for about six years.”

After they moved out, Cornelius DeWitt, a banker and cotton broker from Norfolk bought the house as a summer home for his family.

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