Saturday, April 21, 2018

Collins Square

In the 1930's, John “Johnny” Collins and his wife, Paula, of Manhattan, New York, purchased a summer home on Virginia Beach Boulevard at Thalia. Not having fared well in New York during the depression, they eventually packed up and moved to their summer home in Princess Anne County. Joining them soon after were Paula’s sister, Eleanore Masters, and their mother, Julia Masters.

Julia Masters lived in the two-story wood house situated next to Kettlers that is now the law office of Bruce Mills, Paula’s nephew. For her livelihood, Julia leased out its eight bedrooms to boarders. Thomas R. Kay, a cousin to Paula and Eleanore, moved to the area in the 1940s and set up his home on the land now occupied by Kettlers. “Tommy” Kay went on to serve as Thalia Volunteer Fire Department’s first fire chief.

For their livelihood, John and Paula Collins built tourist cabins around their summer home and rented these out as Cabins-in-the-Pines in recognition of the prolific pine trees dotting their land.  While the cabins are now gone, some remained until recent years.

Sometime before World War II, the Collins constructed their first commercial building, from which a general merchandise store operated along with a tavern and gas station with Amoco pumps. During the war, the influx of military personnel who manned Camp Ashby, the military prisoner of war camp across the boulevard from the Collins business, increased clientele and the success of their commercial enterprises.

In 1949 after World War II, Paula Collins sponsored Andrew Borek, of Polish descent, to come to the states from a German displacement camp. His non-English-speaking family accompanied him, but there was no communication barrier with the Collins family, as they spoke Polish. Borek served as handyman for the “tourist camp.”

In the 1950s, with the widening of the boulevard from a two-lane to a four-lane highway with feeder roads on either side, the State condemned a portion of the Collins’s real estate. This required the removal of their commercial building. The top second floor of the two-story building, which constituted their living quarters, was separated from the bottom floor and moved back to its present location. It served as the law office of the Collins’s nephew Bruce Mills from the mid 1970s until recent years.  As Bruce quipped, in this single-story dwelling, it could be said in truth that one is standing on the ceiling!  Today the building is the studio of Fine Art Specialists at 4145 Virginia Beach Boulevard.

Over the following years, the Collins’s acquired the adjoining parcels of real estate, amassing at one time a total of forty acres with over 2,000 footage along Virginia Beach Boulevard, approximately from Lynn Shores Drive to Ash Street in Thalia Village. John and Paula were quite active in the civic as well as political affairs of their community. They served as General Registrars for the Kempsville precinct, which then included Thalia, registering residents to vote. Among other community activities, they were responsible for the establishment of the all-volunteer Thalia Fire Department and the installation of city sewage and city water to the Thalia area. John Collins also served as deputy sheriff for the recently created City of Virginia Beach.

After the demise of their first commercial building, the Collins’s constructed a new, two-story commercial building and named it “Collins Centre” (1963). One of the first signed leases was to the Thalia Hardware and Cut Rate Supply Company, owned and operated by Henry C. Carney. Carney wore at least two hats, also serving as area Justice of the Peace. He operated Carney’s Confectionery at Collins Centre through 1963. Thalia Confectionery, as some called it, had been the site of a “cake and pie sale” held by the Thalia Garden Club in July of 1955. Thalia Curb Market, otherwise known as Dickens Market, was the small grocery store at the opposite side of Collins Centre from Carney’s. Hazel Craig, a resident of the area for over sixty years, worked as a butcher at Dickens.

Eleanore Masters married Rodney Bailey Mills, a local boy. They had four children: Rodney, Barbara, Bruce, and Billy. Billy Mills served as Thalia’s second fire chief.

Collins Square Shopping Center was constructed on fifteen of the family’s original forty acres. It was open to the public in 1990. Julia Masters’ house has been leased through the years to various antique and art vendors. As stated, it currently serves as Bruce Mills’ law office.

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