History

A Short History of Queens Lake and the Queens Lake Community Association, Inc.

Beginnings

The land bordering Queens Creek is characterized by ravines; creeks; mature, mostly deciduous, woodland and wetlands. It is easy to imagine the Powhatan Tribe hunting and fishing in this region and watching the European Colonists rowing their boats up and down the creek to Capitol Landing to access the new town of Williamsburg.  It has witnessed defining moments in American history being close to the route that Washington took on his march to Yorktown in 1782 and being at the end of the defensive line that Confederate General Magruder constructed in 1862 to oppose Union General McClellan in the Civil War.  The remains of Confederate trenches can still be seen in New Quarter Park and numerous artifacts (arrowheads, military buttons, and musket balls) have been found to bear witness to all of this history.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were a number of small holdings scattered throughout the area that is now known as Queens Lake.  The foundations of a house can be seen close to Queens Creek in New Quarter Park, there was a farmhouse on the bluff that now overlooks the marina, old brick chimneys were found in the Montague Circle area, and there was a farm house on what is now Cambridge Lane.  The land is not well suited for farming, however, and it must have been difficult to eke out a living and also pay property taxes.  The Government took over much of the land along the south shore of the York River, including what are now Camp Peary, New Quarter Park, Cheatham Annex and the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station.  Between 1925 and 1929, the Chesapeake Corporation, a timbering and paper mill operation based at West Point, Virginia purchased three tracts of land south of Queens Creek known as the Roberts tract, the Hubbard tract, and the Holcomb tract totaling 814 acres.  In 1927-28 it built the dam across the stream that emptied into Queens Creek thus creating a 58 acre lake that it called Lake Chesapeake. It stocked the lake with bream, bass, and crappie and used the entire property as a hunting and fishing preserve for its executives.  The existing farm house near the dam served as a lodge and was maintained by a caretaker.  In the early 1930’s, the Federal Park Service built the Colonial Parkway as a reconstruction project after the great depression.  This cut off some of the property but provided access to the road to the dam.

The Queens Lake Development Company

In 1950, the Chesapeake Corporation decided to sell its preserve and it put the sale in the hands of Richard C. Benschoten a local land and estate broker.  Mr. Benschoten, an avid fisherman himself, saw the potential of the land around the lake for home sites. Hi invited four other businessmen to join with him in purchasing part of the Chesapeake property.  They incorporated the Queens Lake Development Company on March 14, 1952, purchased 636 acres, including the lake for a total of $75,000 and renamed the lake “Queens Lake.”  After cutting and selling pines and selected hardwoods to recoup half their investment, the Company platted some of the area that was suitable for development with the help of Vincent McManus, a surveyor and vice mayor of Williamsburg; provided for basic road access, electricity, and water; and set about selling the lots. Queens Lake was not developed all at one time, but rather in sections.  As lots were sold in one section, a new section would be opened.  The first section that was developed included the property fronting the west side of the lake. This was followed by the creek-front lots near the dam.  Two Williamsburg families and the President of the College of William and Mary, who wanted an “out of town” home, were the first property owners.  There are 19 sections (some being divided into subsections). By the time the Development Company dissolved in 1987, there were 547 lots. Potable water was a problem because the region lies on a thick layer of impervious clay so wells to tap into the water table had to be over 400 feet deep; thus, a contract was negotiated with the Sydnor Pump and Well Company of Richmond to drill two community wells, to construct pump houses (adjacent to 210 West Queens Drive and 112 Montague Circle) and to lay pipe to serve each lot. Since sewage was not available, each lot had to accommodate a septic field.

In 1961, Mr. Benschoten’s real estate and insurance business partner Jim Carter and two bankers bought out one of the owner’s  interest in the Queens Lake Development Company.  Shortly afterwards the Company purchased property at the end of East Queens Drive and what was to become Sherwood Lane and Allendale Place. Recognizing the value of waterfront lots, the company hired Henry Branscome to build the dam to form Princess Pond. In 2004, the property between Interstate 64 and Bowstring Drive on Lakeshead Drive (Menichino Tract) was added to Queens Lake.

Naming some of the roads after characters and places in the Robin Hood legend was the idea of Stanley Abbott, the Superintendent of the Colonial National Historical Park,  who had been hired to help plan the roads and lots in 1961.  At that time he also laid out a master plan for the recreation area. The National Park Service owned a road called the North Collector Road that paralleled the Parkway.  In 1963 Mr. Abbott arranged for the Park Service to make the collection road open to all public traffic pending assumption of maintenance by the Virginia Department of Highways.  That road was officially named Lakeshead Drive.

In the early part of the 1960’s, over the objection of the company and Queens Lake residents, Interstate Highway 64 was constructed through part of the property leaving 33 acres cut off from the southwest corner.  In 1965, the company sold the 21 acres of this portion west of West Queens Drive to York County for the construction of Queens Lake Middle School.  As part of this deal, the county agreed to negotiate with the city of Williamsburg to provide water to the Queens Lake development connecting to the water pipes already installed by Sydnor. The wells were subsequently blocked off and the pump houses demolished.

When Dick Benschoten died in 1965, Jim Carter was hired by the Company to manage the development of Queens Lake.

The Queens Lake Community Association

From the beginning, Mr. Benschoten had in mind a community with the lake and other recreational amenities being available to all residents and eventually to be managed by the residents.  Accordingly, the “Queens Lake Club” was incorporated on July 7, 1952, with the charter “To regulate and perpetuate the use of facilities provided by the Queens Lake Development Company ….”  This was apparently modeled on a similar arrangement at “Smoke Rise,” a residential community in New Jersey.  Mr. Benschoten became president and remained so until his death in 1965. The sales contract for purchase of a lot from the Company required that the new owner must be accepted as a member of the Queens Lake Club. Resident dues were set at $10 per annum.  Standing committees for membership, building, finance and lake were established.  At a special meeting of the Queens Lake Development Company on June 29, 1953, it agreed to deed the lake and surrounding land up to 2 feet above the high water mark to the Queens Lake Club, Inc.  Shares of stock were issued to the partners of the Company on the basis of available acreage with a share being issued to each new property owner as it was subtracted from the holdings of the partners. In this way, ownership of the assets of the club gradually transferred to the residents. In the early 1960’s, the Company deeded 11 acres of land on the east side of the dam to the Club and contributed $60,000 for recreational purposes including the construction of a swimming pool, a bathhouse, and a boat dock on Queens Creek.  The  swimming pool was opened in 1961.  Fees for its use were set at $50 per family.

In 1966, membership dues were $12 per year. Swimming fees were $65 for resident and $75 for non-resident families. In 1968, 200 families lived in the community and 143 lots remained to be sold.  Jim Carter negotiated the purchase of the 54 acre Holloway tract (Bowstring, Shoreham, Cambridge, and Holloway) for $3,000 per acre. Because half the tract was still in open fields, Carter planted hundreds of pine seedlings to provide an eventual wooded cover in keeping with the rest of the neighborhood.  There was some resistance to including residents of this area in the Queens Lake Club, partly because of perceived overcrowding of the existing swimming pool.  The Development Company offered to provide 30% of the cost of constructing a second pool in return for admitting this tract into the community and the members of the Queens Lake Club agreed.

In February 1969, Major General Briard Johnson was elected the first president of the Club who was not a principal of the development company. He was a strong proponent of the philosophy that individual amenities of the club (pool, tennis courts, marina) should “pay for themselves.”  The initiation fee was raised to $160 for new lot purchasers. Swimming fees were $75 for resident families and $110 for non-resident families. The second pool opened on May 30, 1969.  The By-Laws were revised to provide for one share of stock for initiation fees paid. All previous stock was cancelled and a new issuance of stock certificates was made.

Over the years the Club maintained the two pools and bathhouse, expanded the original two tennis courts to four, enlarged the marina from a landing on the creek to the present configuration of outside and covered slips as well as a launching ramp, and in 1980 constructed a clubhouse. In 2001, the original pool overlooking the creek was demolished and a new six-lane pool was constructed.

One of the original standing committees was the “Building Committee” which was to ensure that construction and subsequent modification of houses conformed to certain standards.  As an example, minimum living space areas were established for single and multiple story houses.  Conformance to the standards was enforced under threat of loss of privileges.  Over time, new construction dwindled, and the Building Committee ceased to exist as a standing committee.  The By-Laws provide for the appointment of a Building Committee if an occasion demands it.

Jim Carter sold the last lot owned by the Queens Lake Development Company in 1985 and he vacated his seat on the Queens Lake Club Board of Directors in 1986. The Queens Lake Development Company was dissolved on September 1, 1987.

Since the early 1960’s, one Saturday each year has been set aside as “Queens Lake Day.” Since the bicentennial in 1976 it has been held close to the 4th of July. Typically, there is breakfast in the clubhouse and the festivities are started by a parade along East Queens Drive to the recreation area led by the County Sheriff and followed by fire and ladder trucks, sirens blaring.  Most years there is a theme and the marchers and bicyclists dress accordingly.  The flag is raised  and the QLCA President makes a welcoming speech. The rest of the day is devoted to sports events, friendly competitions, and children’s games.  Evening festivities center on a community picnic around the pool and dancing to a live combo.

A periodic newsletter providing updates on community activities and issues of concern to residents has been published since the early 1970’s. In addition, the clubhouse has been used for hundreds of community functions, social events, and educational activities.

Over the years the Club has represented the residents of Queens Lake in a number of controversial issues, including: a proposal to construct high-density housing on a portion of the property; a proposal to construct a highway crossing of the York River adjacent to Queens Lake; a proposal to develop a golf course in New Quarter Park; noise abatement along the I-64 corridor; repair of the road across the dam following storm damage; and, more recently, upgrade of electric and water supply, and installation of a county sewage system.

In 1995, the Board decided to contract for a Facilities Condition Survey and a plan to maintain and improve Queens Lake Facilities over the next 10 years. The survey was conducted by the DeYoung-Johnson Group, Inc. and addressed the clubhouse, tennis courts, marina, and pools. The resulting report, referred to as the DJG report, projected expected expenses for the ten year period.  It noted that the main swimming pool had deteriorated and was in need of extensive repair. On the basis of this report, the Association voted to increase maintenance dues to provide for expected expenditures.  In the spring of 1997, a survey of members was conducted to ascertain the interest in maintaining the swimming pool complex and later that year the DJG prepared a report outlining three options for it.  In 2000 the membership voted for the option to replace the pool and agreed to borrow some of the money required to do so rather than use reserve funds set aside for other purposes. The dues were raised by $100 per year to cover this expense.

In 2002, under its then president, Don Tortorice, a new class of membership was proposed.  In return for signing a restriction on their deed binding them and all successive owners of their property to membership in the Club, the owners of a Queens Lake property could join with only a nominal stock purchase fee and be charged reduced maintenance dues (whereas a “traditional member” paid $1,000 stock purchase fee upon joining and $310 per year in dues, a “deeded member” would pay $100 stock purchase fee and $250 maintenance dues.)  The Board pledged that they would not file any of the deed restriction documents until 130 had been received.  This number was surpassed in 2003, and the deed restriction documents were filed.  This dual class system is still in effect and appears to be working quite well. 

At the annual meeting of 2003, the name, “Queens Lake Club, Inc.,” was changed to the “Queens Lake Community Association, Inc.” in order to emphasize its role as a guardian of the common property and representative of the residents and to avoid the connotation that it was merely a social organization. The Articles of Incorporation were changed to reflect the new name in early 2004.

 

Living in Nature’s Neighborhood: Queens Lake 1952- 2003

This book was authored by Linda Bowe, Nancy Dutro, and Joan Swanson and was published in 2006.

For information, contact the QLCA Office at 229-0973 or email to qlca@widomaker.com