Cover photo courtesy of the Jim Seelen Motel Image Collection.
Just on the outskirts of the town of Accomac, Virginia, is what Wikipedia calls the “census-designated place” of Tasley. Like many small towns across the Delmarva Peninsula, Tasley got its start thanks to the train. After the Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Railroad (later part of the Pennsylvania Railroad) was built in 1884, Tasley became a boom town and, at its peak, touted its three restaurants, four general stores, hotel, post office, rail station, two tractor dealerships, car dealerships, and electric power plant.
However, like most railroad boomtowns, Tasley would eventually go bust with advent of the automobile. After the Pennsylvania Railroad stopped passenger service along the Eastern Shore in 1958, Tasley just kind of withered up, with many of its residents heading north to Delaware or south to the Virginia mainland.
With the coming of the automobile, however, came the highway. Most notably there was the “Ocean Highway”, U.S. 13, which would become the backbone of the peninsula for road travel.
It was along this highway sometime in the 1930s that the Whispering Pines Motel and Restaurant was built and soon became a popular stop for folks traveling the Ocean Highway that stretched from New Jersey to the Florida Keys. From the back of a mid-century postcard, the motel boasted “perfectly appointed motel accommodations” featuring “air-conditioning, television, a spacious dining room and soda fountain.”
Still, hard times would befall the area once again during the energy crisis of the 1970s and the popularity of affordable flights starting in the early 1980s. People simply weren’t traveling by road like they did before. As a result, mom and pop motels along Route 13 struggled to survive. Sometime in the 1980s, Whispering Pines would close its doors and later, like so many other buildings in the area, it was simply abandoned.
A Burning Desire
In 2012 and into 2013, there were a string of arson fires targeting abandoned buildings in Accomack County, Virginia, that left local residents worried. However, after months of burning houses, shacks, cabins, billboards, and even the Whispering Pines Motel, local lovers Charlie Smith and Tonya Bundick were caught and arrested for arson on April 1, 2013, after trying to set an abandoned house in Malfa ablaze.
Tonya claimed she knew nothing about the fires. Charlie, however, told a different story. Charlie said he did it for love.
The couple had been smitten with each other since they were set up on a date at a nearby steakhouse in mid-2011. Witnesses say that they got along swimmingly and were often seen together at public events and seemed to be very much in love.
However, what the public didn’t see was that Tanya was under a lot stress. She was a single mom taking care of two boys, the oldest of which had behavioral problems that were only getting worse.
One night while the two were making their almost nightly run to McDonald’s for coffee, they passed an abandoned house. It was then that Charlie claims that Tonya said something along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be nice to just watch that house burn to the ground.” And, after talking about it more for awhile, they set the house ablaze. Charlie said as they drove away, he could see how relieved that Tanya looked and how her mood had changed for the better.
Charlie loved Tanya and would do anything to see her happy.
Around 80 fires later, they were finally caught. On April 21, 2015, Tonya Bundick was sentenced to 17-and-a-half years behind bars for the fires. Three days later, Charles R. Smith III was sentenced to 15 years on 68 counts of arson – his sentence lighter for testifying against Tonya at both of her trials.
The Whispering Pines Goes Silent
Around March 15, 2013, the Whispering Pines Motel and Restaurant was set ablaze and became the 65th fire in the lover’s series of arsons. However, for five years after, parts of the motel remained standing and became a safety hazard. What’s more, the community of Tasley started calling the once beautiful and beloved motel and restaurant an eyesore.
As a result, the Whispering Pines Motel and Restaurant was demolished in the last days of May 2019. The motel’s pool and open septic tanks were also filled in. Only some footings, concrete and asphalt remain today.
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