Haunts and Hauntings On the River's Edge

Friday, August 15, 2008

Stand by the gazebo of Mamie Davis Park in Occoquan long enough and you might wonder when the Show Boat is going to chug up the river with a crew singing Hammerstein songs.

This tiny town on the banks of the Occoquan River was established as a trading post in 1734 and retains much of that early flavor, although it now packs more than 100 shops and restaurants into a seven-block radius.

"We're current and contemporary, but our feet are definitely 100 years old," explains Annette Riley, owner of Ka Lei Pua, a boutique of Hawaiian crafts and handbags.

Hence, the many town ghosts; a local shopping and dining guide denotes hauntings the way most brochures mark handicapped accessibility.

And although no one could blame a commuter for equating the word "Occoquan" with "point to which the I-95 traffic is backed up," it's actually a Dogue Indian word that translates to "at the end of the water," a reference to the junction of the Occoquan and Potomac rivers.

"It's just about perfect small-town America," shrugs Riley, who has lived here for 30 years. She recently had a brick engraved for the Town Hall walkway. It reads simply: "I love you, Occoquan."

10 a.m. Breakfast at De Rubeen's Cafe (125 Mill St., Suite 2; 703-494-4777). Riley recommends the homemade scones at this riverfront eatery. Although, come to think of it, she adds, the whole bakery is "just, mmmmm, let me have one of each . . ."

10:45 a.m. Explore. Stroll along the river and through the shop fronts of this almost miniature community. If Riley was your guide, she'd insist on stops at Personally Yours ( 308 Mill St.; 703-494-8683), a country shop with antiques, folk art and primitive furniture, and Two Girls and a Boy ( 310 Mill St.; 703-490-2765), a children's clothing store with whimsical, old-fashioned toys. And definitely hit Mom's Apple Pie Bakery ( 126 Commerce St.; 703-497-7437), which is generous with its free samples on weekends.

12:30 p.m. Mill House Museum (413 Mill St.; 703-491-7525). The nation's first automated grist mill was built here in 1759. The mill was destroyed by a fire, but the miller's house remains and is worth a quick visit to learn the town's history.

1 p.m. Lunch at Garden Kitchen ( 404 Mill St.; 703-494-2848). The flower- and music-filled patio of this 150-year-old house is the place to be for a midday meal. "It's the oldest restaurant in town," Riley says, "with good chicken salad, good dessert."

2:30 p.m. Kayaking (6501 Pohick Bay Dr., Lorton; 703-339-6104). You've come this way to be on the water, so why not actually be on the water? At the Pohick Bay Regional Park (seven miles from Occoquan), you can rent kayaks by the hour to paddle the Potomac. Keep your eyes open for heron, osprey and beavers.

6 p.m. Dinner at Madigan's Waterfront ( 201 Mill St.; 703-494-6373). If you've worked up an appetite and don't want to go home hungry, head back into Occoquan for a meal at Madigan's. "Sit on the patio out back," Riley advises. "It's covered, they have fans out there and it's overlooking the river, so it's the best of all worlds."

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