September 2013: Grandview Nature Preserve

Hampton, Virginia

Winslow Lewis was a sea captain turned engineer and inventor in the early 19th century. He created a new lighting system based on Argand oil lamps and in 1812 the United States Congress awarded him a contract to equip all American lighthouses with his lamps. Lewis was soon building most of the new lighthouses in the country. He developed standard cookie-cutter plans for brick lighthouses in five sizes. He came here in 1829 to construct a 30-foot tower on Grandview Beach. The Back River Lighthouse, keeper’s quarters and a 144-foot bridge over the marsh all cost less than $5,000. In reality, Winslow Lewis knew little about accepted engineering standards and most of his lighthouses were poorly constructed or too short for their intended purpose. Most had to be replaced but the Back River Light soldiered on, illuminating the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay until it was decommisioned in 1936. The historic lighthouse was left to deteriorate, overlooked by preservationists. In 1956 a hurricane washed it away. All that remains of the Back River Light, once built safely inland, is a jumble of rocks many yards offshore. Back on land, the Commonwealth of Virginia has created a 578-acre preserve at the north end of Hampton.  

You bring your dog to Grandview to hike on its more than two miles of white sand beach. A short trail through the marsh and dunes curves to the Chesapeake but you can no longer hike on the dunes so the beach is it. And that’s plenty for most dogs.  

For most true crime buffs the sensational murder case of the 1930s was the New Jersey kidnap case of Charles Lindbergh’s baby. But Grandview had its share of sensational headlines at that time as well. In September 1931, Elisha Kent Kane III, a university professor from a prominent Pennsylvania family, brought his young wife to Grandview Beach to learn how to swim. Jenny Graham Kane was apparently terrified of the water and the shallow lapping of the Chesapeake Bay seemed benign enough. But something went terribly wrong that day. Kane was soon racing his car through the streets of Hampton with his wife slumped unconscious beside him. When he reached the hospital she was dead. Kane would be tried for his wife’s murder but no one - including the jury - could decide if he was a grief-stricken husband or a cold-blooded killer. After less than four hours of deliberation Elisha Kane was acquitted but even today no one knows the real story of what happened that day at Grandview Beach.

From I-64 take Exit 263B onto Mercury Boulevard North. Take a left on Foxhill Road and a left on Beach Road. Continue on Beach Road for 2.6 miles, and then turn left on State Park Drive. Park along the road and walk to the entrance at the end of State Park Drive.