Pat Hart, of Wachapreague, has retired again. If she isn’t reading two books a week on her side porch on Main Street, one can find her weeding in the garden or at her nearby antique store.
This time the 82-year-old, a dear friend who I love like a mother, has left the real estate business to concentrate on her store and other tasks. Pat changes course every decade or so. Her life is always full of color, from the watercolor and oil paintings she claims to just be “trying” to create, to her rose garden, and the array of people who are constantly visiting her. She is very popular and loves to entertain and talk to the masses. “They’ve worn the paint right off my porch,” she said with a grin.
Pat was the seventh Kellam child of eight who grew up down the street in a house that didn’t have plumbing. She sure has moved up in the world. Pat was Miss Wachapreague 1952 and, in my eyes, she still is queen of the town.
She met her sweetheart, Tom Hart, just after he graduated from the rival school, Onancock. They met while attending the Melfa Carnival, also in 1952. She was a Central High School student then.
Hart, a master carpenter and tile layer, swept her up “in his 1947 Ford Coupe for all the dates” and they eventually ran away to Pocomoke, Md., got married, and kept it a secret until she was finished with school.
She stayed home to raise two boys until she was in her early thirties when she landed a job at the deli at the Onley Acme Market when it opened, which has since been converted into a couple of restaurants on the north end of Four Corner Plaza.
Pat soon became a meat wrapper and union member and managed to retell the funniest jokes to her fellow workers, which for a time included me, and all while she was filling the meat case. I was a checker and had gone to school with her sons. She retired from that job when she turned 50.
Pat said she came back from lunch one day and announced, “I’m going on vacation for two weeks and I am not coming back. It was several years before they closed. I had Burton House and something else on my mind I wanted to do,” Pat said.
She and Tom had bought the two-story, wood-frame Victorian-style house, on Atlantic Avenue, in Wachapreague, for $23,000 in 1985, and Tom and his helper, Morris Smith, renovated it for about a year before it was opened as a bed-and-breakfast.
“It wasn’t so much the money as it was the labor,” she said. “They made it into a beautiful home. The first thing we bought was a cast-iron wood stove that was covered with enamel because we had to have heat. Every room had a half bath and the guests shared the showers on each floor. Originally, there was one bath that was barely usable because the house was vacant for a decade or so.”
“We loved the people,” she said. “Tom built a screened porch on the back. Randy Lewis, (also of Wachapreague and the former owner of the Wachapreague Hotel and the Island House) gave him railings that were saved from the old hotel after it burned and was torn down. We loved sitting on the porch visiting with our guests. Hundreds came from all over the world. And a lot of repeat people. We had one man who cried when we told him we were closing down because of Tom’s health,” she said. “Tom was my best help and he couldn’t do it anymore.”
In 1988, just two years after she gained her real estate license, Pat began to sell houses to her visitors who loved the “Little City by the Sea.”
“I sold 10 houses one year that were under $100,000 to guests,” she said. At Burton House, one could get a room for $50 a night that included a breakfast she and Tom served of eggs to order, sausage and bacon, ham on Sunday, biscuit or muffins, everything homemade, with unlimited coffee and juice. Eventually, that price went up to $75.
Pat said she loved how pretty the house turned out and how it was furnished with used items that were good and polished. “Nothing fancy but people were comfortable with it. We had one TV in the living room and we had lots of books for people to read.”
“I had one man who called when he got home to Baltimore so I wouldn’t worry,” she said. “He really wanted to tell me that my biscuits were better than McDonald’s.”
“We started out with five guest rooms and three years later a stairwell and two more bedrooms were added to the attic so we could keep up with business,” she said. “We did that for 18 years and ended up with another house that had four cabins and a small boat marina.” The Harts sold the business in the early 2000s.
Last month, Pat left Weichert Realty, in Onancock. The company gave her a catered surprise retirement party that she was really excited about. “I’m going to read and I’m a wannabe an artist. I joined the art league but that doesn’t mean I’m an artist,” she said. She has Seaside Antiques. “I’ve been a dealer since 1970,” she said. She is open by chance, mostly on the weekend and by appointment. Pat also has a booth at J & M Collectibles, in Exmore, where she takes the books she reads to sell for a $1 each after she’s finished.
Yippee! I love you, Pat.