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A summer place

May 11, 2017 11:56AM ● Published by J. Chambless

A vintage postcard for Crystal Beach Manor on the Elk River.

Gallery: Crystal Beach Manor [19 Images] Click any image to expand.

(This story will appear in the Summer 2017 issue of Chester County Life, distributed on June 7)

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

Countless summer memories have been made at Crystal Beach Manor, and the families who live in the small community on the Elk River have deep roots there.

The resort began in the 1920s, with its neighbor a few feet to the north, the private White Crystal Beach community, having at one time a dance hall, beer garden, bowling alley, carnival rides and even a tattoo parlor. The larger community of Crystal Beach Manor, however, has more homes and today is a quiet, but thriving, pocket of recreation with a spectacular water view. The same things that drew visitors to the spot in the 1930s and 1940s still hold true today – the cool breeze, placid water and pocket beach, the walkable small streets, a marina and just enough amenities to make a summer there a comfortable getaway.

When resorts began springing up along the river at the turn of the century, traveling to distant beaches was impractical, if not impossible. Local families looking for relief from the summer swelter of inland Maryland could come to the river shore for a day or a week, often packing the two-lane road to Crystal Beach Manor, bumper-to-bumper. The area thrived through the 1950s and early 1960s, but with the coming of better, wider roads, the proliferation of cars and the lure of nearby shore towns, places like this faded from popularity.

There's a small online community and a Facebook page for those who love the resort, along with snapshots and postcards of the old days. The beach at Crystal Beach Manor still has the remnants of a pier that was grander in years gone by, when it was known as Reybold's Wharf. The carnival attractions at the private White Crystal Beach are long gone, but the community still has its longtime fans as well. Jim Privito has been “going there since I was 4 years old. I am now 56,” he wrote in an email. “My favorite memories are spending my summers down there with my mom, and my dad would come on weekends and vacation time. A lot of boating and water skiing and volleyball. Had a great time growing up down there, and even though I only live 45 minutes from the Jersey Shore, I prefer White Crystal Beach. I raised my daughter Lauren and son Jimmy down there, and next year I will be bringing my first grandchild down, since my daughter is pregnant and due Oct. 22.”

At the heart of the Crystal Beach Manor community is the Manor Inn, once the original farmhouse for a sprawling plantation dating back to the late 1700s. It has gone through many changes – once a hotel for visitors, as well as a bar and restaurant – but its placement on the highest spot shows how important it remains.

Owners Reggie and Cheryl DuBree have lived in the community since 1997, and they have run the Manor Inn for 11 years. There's a small grocery store in the front room, and a large bar and restaurant area where visitors and residents are welcome.

“When we first came here, it was down to maybe 300 residents year-round,” Cheryl said during a recent interview. “It's a lot more now.”

There are snapshots and postcards on the walls showing the history of the business, including former owner Dolly, who is seen grinning with customers in many of the 1950s photos. The 1939 debut issue of a newsletter for the community has tidbits about the success of the resort.

The Manor Inn building itself has some intriguing features, including pits in the basement that used to hold ice cut from the river to provide refrigeration into the spring and summer, two original stone fireplaces at either end of the first floor, and little architectural details that are constantly coming to light as the couple renovates the property.

There are also ghosts wandering the upper floors, which used to be hotel rooms. “We have a man and a woman, two kids, and another man that we've seen,” Cheryl said. When her mother lived upstairs at the inn, the ghostly man and woman and children used to stand at the foot of her mother's bed and watch her, she said.

The couple is calmly accepting of the building's quirks, though, and they have started researching its history online, but little information has come to light about the original plantation property that belonged at one time to the Pierce family. The DuBrees are proud of the business and the resort, and they gladly tell visitors about the little carnival ride that used to give children a slightly bumpy ride in the 1960s, as well as the arcade building and bath house that burned down long ago.

On the community's Facebook page, one former resident summed up the appeal of the place: “For the next three months: No phone, bottom of your feet turning black and staying that way until September, Hazel behind the change table at the game room, everyone getting their mail in a small shared box at the stand, all the parents sitting on the benches keeping an eye on the kids on the dance floor at night, going into the bingo room at nine to get a chance on winning the one hundred dollar jackpot, playing football on the beach at sunset, waiting for the big ship to pass so you can jump the big wave, taking a bath with your Ivory soap at the beach, and being sad on Labor Day knowing you won't see your summer friends until next June.”

Today, while driving around Crystal Beach Manor, there are signs of proud ownership everywhere. One man was renovating the front of a 1929 cottage so that it provided an expansive view of the Elk River. Today, just as in the 1920s, the lure of open water, a cool breeze and a gathering of friendly families continue to draw people to Crystal Beach Manor.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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