WHITE LAKE — For decades, the white-sand bottom and clear water of White Lake has been a destination spot for families up and down the East Coast. It’s also attracted quite a few interesting visitors for a variety of reasons — ranging from performances at the former Hayloft dance hall and Goldston’s Beach Dance Pavilion, rides on the Lady of the Lake tour boat, water-skiing competitions on the lake, to grand marshal the White Lake Water Festival Parade and just to enjoy a few hours at the water’s edge.
But arguably the most famous person to visit White Lake, and for the latter reason, was the former Virginia Patterson Hensley — who shortly after enjoying her time in Bladen County, went on to become a famous country music artist known as Patsy Cline before her untimely death in 1963.
While her second husband, Charlie Dick, was serving his military duties at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, Cline — who kept the stage name from her first husband, Gerald Cline — made the trip to White Lake more than once.
Bill Watson, who owns Carolyn’s Court and Cabins at White Lake, came across a photograph several years ago that was given to him by an elderly woman who used to stay at Carolyn’s Court. That photograph was of Patsy Cline and is signed.
“That photograph was in my briefcase since 2005,” Watson told the Bladen Journal a few years ago. “I never did hang it on the wall. I just put it away.”
Watson said the woman, Fay Wilson of Fayetteville, has since passed away. But when she gave him the photograph, she told Watson that Cline had come to White Lake in 1957 and 1958.
According to a story Watson did about the photograph with the Bladen Journal in 2010, Wilson told him that she and her husband were neighbors of Cline and Dick in Fayetteville. She also said Cline would primarily come to White Lake on day trips, but also may have spent a night or two.
“(Wilson) said Patsy liked the lake because she was pregnant (with her first child, Julie) and enjoyed the soothing waters,” Watson said in 2010.
Cline and Dick spent about a year in North Carolina before moving to Nashville, Tenn., in 1958, where her career skyrocketed in 1960 — a career cut short three years later when she was killed in a plane crash at the age of just 30.
Other notable visitors
Cathy Faircloth Kinlaw is a wealth of knowledge about White Lake, a place she calls home, and recently published a book titled “White Lake: A Historical Tour of the Nation’s Safest Beach.” In that book, Kinlaw tells the story of the lake’s history by decade — starting with information from the 1700s and stretching into the 2000s.
“The lake has been a long-time, fun place for people to come,” Kinlaw said.
Some of the visitors to White Lake over the years have included high-ranking and highly decorated military men from Fort Bragg, as well as the 82nd Airborne military band, and a couple of reigning Miss North Carolinas.
“Some of the bigger names to come back in the day were the big-band orchestras,” Kinlaw said. “The lake was a good stop for them and attracted a lot of people from around the region.”
Among those was the Johnny Long Orchestra, along with Lew Gogerty and His Nationally Known Orchestra — both of which performed in White Lake at the Hayloft at Crystal Beach and Goldston’s Beach Dance Pavilion in the 1930s and 1940s.
Sadly, a fire in 1957 wiped out not only the Hayloft, but also much of the beaches area.
Also in Kinlaw’s book is plenty of documentation about the water-skiing craze that took over the lake in the 1970s and 1980s. Two important visitors — Ricky McCormick, an Olympics water-ski champion; and Marc Bedsole, an Olympic coach and world-champion trick skier — showed off their skills at White Lake.
Another entertainer to bring a famous name to the lake was steered to Bladen County by White Lake resident Dawn Maynard in 2008, when she brought Emily Minor to perform at the White Lake Water Festival dance.Minor was fresh off her Hollywood run through Season 6 of “American Idol” and is now an accomplished country-music star in Nashville.
Two folks who are natives of Bladen County but spent plenty of time at White Lake as they were becoming successful in life were Elizabethtown resident Curtis Brown Jr., who went on to acclaim as a NASA astronaut, and White lake resident Jerry Atkinson, who went on to become the first U.S. master-rated barefoot water-skier.
Brown once served as the White Lake Water Festival Parade marshal and Atkinson went on to manage a water-ski show for Disney World in Florida.
Surely there are more — many more — famous folks who visited White Lake back in the day. And just as surely, many more will come in the decades ahead.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.