Charlotte Hall: Queen of the Potomac Rivah/Swamp Boogie Queen
Queen of the Potomac River
This will be a fun article. I have known Charlotte for many years yet in many ways I hardly knew her. Over the years we have both been on different merchant group committees, however she carried it a bit further and was a member of just about every organization in Alexandria. She has been involved with and also has had an influence on many decisions regarding the well being and growth of Alexandria. Her influence has been felt by all and has recently earned her the nickname of the “Nag.”
Hall grew up in Warrenton, Virginia back when Warrenton was still very country. The city folks hadn’t yet discovered the beauty of the area. She was an active person who loved to ride horses, which she still enjoys today. Her outgoing personality was just right for the theater, and she joined and worked with the Children’s Theater for years.
Upon graduating from high school, Hall attended Randolph-Macon, a liberal arts college, in Ashland, Virginia near Richmond. After she graduated she took a position as Deputy Director of Richmond- on- the- James that today is known as the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau today. Back in those days Richmond had walking tours, bus tours and one boat that gave tours on the James River. They figured that they needed another boat so rather than go through the procurement process, they just asked Charlotte to find them another boat. Hall’s interest in the James was profound and so consuming that the Richmond City Planning Director laughed and said’ “Only the Swamp Queen would be interested in the James River…the swamp!” It was because of her concern for the James River that she earned the nickname, Swamp Boogie Queen.
Charlotte contacted three different boat companies for bids and one of the bids came from Willem Polak, owner of the Potomac River Boat Company here in Alexandria. During the conversations with all the companies Polak invited Hall and her board to come to Alexandria and see the Cherry Blossom, his twin paddle-wheel boat. The board fell in love with the Cherry Blossom and wanted it in Richmond. Clearly Hall had done her job well but the reality at that time, Richmond could not justify the expense, so the Cherry Blossom stayed in Alexandria. Polak, being the businessman that he is, recognized the talent and skill in Hall and offered her a sales job. Her opinion was, at the time, that she was just a country girl from Warrenton and the city was not her cup of tea…so she declined the job and returned to Richmond.
On her return to Richmond, after seven years at Richmond on the James, Hall was looking for a new challenge and took a position as Director of Development and Public Relations at the Maymont Foundation. Maymont is a 100-acre Victorian estate and public park in Richmond. It contains Maymont Mansion, now a historic house museum, and arboretum, formal gardens, a carriage collection, native wildlife exhibits, and nature trail and children’s farm. After another seven years, and the fact that Polak and Hall had stayed in touch, well…maybe the country had left the girl or the city moved in. She joined Polak’s team to help market the two boats he owned…Cherry Blossom and the Admiral Tilp. They have since added six vessels to the fleet.
Little did Hall know that the more she got involved with the boats the more she had to get involved with the City of Alexandria. The business began to grow as other destinations opened up. First there was the new Georgetown waterfront so the Matthew Hays began to make that trip every hour. Miss Christen could take folks to Mount Vernon for a days visit and bring them home. Then there was National Harbor.
The Harbor opened in April of 2008 and Potomac Riverboat Company was ready with two new boats for water taxi service between Alexandria and the Harbor. Hall aka the Nag played a major role in the concept and implementation of this service…she had to keep everyone focused and moving forward. Since then they have added the baseball boat. A brilliant suggestion from Polak to take fans from Alexandria to the southeast waterfront, drop them off on the first base side and wait to bring them back. With the success of the Washington Nationals in the past 4 years, this has become such a good idea that for some games they have had to run two boats. Recently, Potomac Riverboat Company joined into a partnership with the National Park Service offering service to the National Mall aboard the Miss Sophie.
Now, twenty four years after she accepted the sales position, Hall is now a partner in the company and the operation of the eight vessel fleet. Is the run over? Hall is now working with National Harbor and Reagan National Airport to provide a water taxi service for guests at the Harbor who fly in or need to fly out. If all goes well, there might be future service to Reagan from Old Town as well as the new southwest waterfront at the Wharf, in Washington, D.C. along Maine Avenue.
The hard work has finally paid off. Although negotiations have been going on for some time, a deal was recently inked with Entertainment Cruises out of Chicago. Entertainment Cruises is a company that is familiar with the area, as they own the Odyssey, Spirit of Washington, Spirit of Mount Vernon and Capital Elite yachts located in the D.C. area. Even though this well-known group is now the owner of Potomac Riverboat Company, Polak will serve as their Strategic Advisor and Charlotte will keep making it all work.
Whenever there is a meeting concerning Alexandria, Charlotte Hall will probably be there. She has been doing it for a long time and has been instrumental in marketing our beloved Old Town all over the region.
When asked about her free time she responds, “I like to go kayaking, and I enjoy doing Pilates and I still like to ride horses.” She also spends a lot of time with her two German Shepherds. Rio, who is 6 years old, and the Chessie, who is 3. Charlotte is proud to say that they are both alumni of the Fauquier County SPCA. When asked about her social life she says with a smile, “Most people have a husband, kids or both or a significant other…I have Alexandria!’ There you have it! Make it a point to meet her on the Rivah!