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Summer Traveling: Couple Opens Tiny Cottages For Vacationers On The Eastern Shore

A couple in Cape Charles, Virginia, has transformed an old Esso site into a travel destination called “Cape Charles Tiny Livin’.” They have renovated several small cottages, offering a unique and cozy accommodation option for vacationers exploring the Eastern Shore.



By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

There are residents still living in Cape Charles, Virginia who are old enough to remember the Green Book, a travel guide used by African-Americans during the days of Jim Crow segregation to determine the hotels, shops, and other attractions they could use while traveling.

Until civil rights safeguards were put in place in the late 1960s, Black families motoring about the South could not stay in hotels, shop at some stores, or eat inside diners owned by whites.

It is unclear if Blacks driving along Interstate-13 along the Virginia part of the Del-Mar-Va Peninsula could stop and buy gas or use the restrooms at Cape Charles Esso Service station on that route.

But it is clear, according to old timers, that the Esso station’s Auto Motel Court was off-limits for Black travelers.

The auto court consisted of 10 small cottages that white travelers could rent for overnight stays or for days while on vacation.

These motor courts pre-dated what are today called motels. They were conceived in the 1930s and were fashioned to serve as overnight or long-term lodging for travelers motoring through the area.

Motels did not come into vogue until after WWII, according to the National Travel Association.

Now, in an interesting twist of history and economic initiative, Eric and Sylvia Hawkins, who are African-Americans, now own the old Esso site.

And now it’s a travel destination for anyone visiting the Eastern Shore.

The couple named the site “Cape Charles Tiny Livin’ on the Eastern Shore,” and is located 45 miles from Norfolk.

It is about a mile off Interstate 13 North in Cape Charles.

According to Eric Hawkins, the site had been abandoned for 45 years.

They have renovated at least eight old and abandoned cottages for use by vacationers.

The couple will eventually restore up to 25 of the units. They will range from 150 to 515 feet in size.

According to Eric Hawkins, each of the cottages is outfitted with a small sitting area, bedroom, kitchenette, and modern bathroom.

Also, each one of them is outfitted to represent a theme. The smallest is the Red House; the Vintage Cottage is filled with antiques; the Mermaid gives the residents the impression the occupants are submerged in water; the Fisherman honors the local watermen; and a much larger one is called the Barn.

“The Barn” once housed the boiler plant that heated the cottages back in the day, Hawkins said.

The couple hails from Virginia Beach. Eric Hawkins once ran an HVAC service company and his wife; Sylvia is a Master Hair Colorist and Stylist.

He uses his HVAC skills to install and repair cooling and heating systems in the cottages.

The couple also has invested in a number of AIR BNB properties.

Recently such small units, as the cottages, have become fashionable and practical economic housing choices for couples or individuals in urban and rural locals.

Cape Charles Tiny Livin’ on the Eastern Shore, Hawkins said, was opened last year and this summer is their first full vacation season. So far, the patronage has been steady, he said.

Most of the cottages are pet friendly. Honeymooners and people needing a “hideaway” are welcome, Hawkins said.

“This is a nice quiet vacation spot for individuals or families,” he said. “It is nestled between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and a three-minute drive to a beach.”

For more information about the site, go to Listings from Cape Charles Tiny Livin’ (

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