by Henry Lane Hull
In the late 19th century with the advent of steamboat travel, visiting the Northern Neck became more routine.
To meet the growing influx, many hotels, boarding houses and inns appeared on the scene, the largest concentration of them in the town of Colonial Beach. Almost all of them offered the American Plan, meaning that the guests took three meals a day in the dining room, usually at the same table as the owner, all part of their room and board charge, as opposed to the European Plan where the lodgers ordered off a menu, paying for each course separately.
One of those establishments, which faced directly on the Potomac River in the Classic Shore section of the Beach, was operated by Mrs. Thomas Freeland Mason, whose clients were mostly Washingtonians, who traveled to and from the Beach on one of the steamboats servicing the town, most likely the “Saint John’s.” Mrs. Mason’s husband was a waterman who, in his son’s words, “fought the Potomac for his entire career.”
The Masons’ only son, Freeland, went off to study at Christchurch School in the Middle Peninsula and then to college at Virginia Tech, which in the popular terminology of his day was “V.P.I.” Freeland married and moved to Warrenton in Fauquier County where he spent his professional career as president of his own insurance and real estate firm.
The lure of the Northern Neck remained compelling throughout his working days, and in retirement he purchased a Victorian home near Kilmarnock on Boys Camp Road, where he could keep his boat and follow in his father’s footsteps working on the water, but not on the tumultuous seas common to the Potomac off Colonial Beach.
For over 10 years he crabbed and gill-netted, and played a very active role in the Virginia Waterman’s Association. He was also a regular attendee at the hearings and meetings of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in Newport News, frequently speaking up on matters that particularly affected Northern Neck watermen. In addition, Freeland studied environmental conditions affecting the various Chesapeake Bay species of marine life and could speak authoritatively about them.
Freeland’s dog was a brown Irish water spaniel, named Sook. She was ubiquitous, traveling everywhere with him in his van. The latter was readily identifiable by the small crabpot attached to the roof antenna. He said the crabpot helped him find his vehicle on a crowded parking lot.
Freeland enjoyed being able to change careers in his late 60s, perhaps not an unusual reaction for someone who is the quintessential lifetime learner. Another of his retirement activities was molding and fashioning ceramic crab figurines.
When he reached the age of 80, Freeland decided to re-retire and moved to Richmond. His choice for a home was an apartment at Richmond Westminster-Canterbury. His principal motivation was spurred by the availability of Richmond W-C to offer one-day round trip bus transportation to all Virginia Tech home football games. Tech never had a more loyal alumnus.
Few innocent people ever have spent as much time in prison as Freeland. For many years he has been a regular visitor to Virginia prisons, often spending the weekends with inmates as part of his affiliation with the Kairos Prison Ministry. His commitment to the inmates was long-term, as he would follow up on their successes after release, always being available for advice and encouragement.
A few months ago my Good Wife and I visited Freeland. When I asked him how he liked living at Richmond W-C, he replied, “I think I’ve died and gone to Blacksburg.”
This coming Tuesday will be Freeland’s 94th birthday. Aside from not working on the water his life remains the same as it was in the Northern Neck.
Happy Birthday, Freeland! Ad multos annos! You are at the Peak of Youth!