Lake living


by Jessie Ammons

photographs by  Lissa Gotwals

Summertime childhood memories for me are all about the lake. Growing up just north of Raleigh, as soon as the weekend rolled around, we were off to Lake Gaston, an hour away but a world apart. Toting marshmallows for s’mores, sugary cereals, sunscreen, and swimsuits, my two brothers, my parents, and I joined cousins, aunts, and uncles at our grandparents’ lake house. We kids slept on pull-out couches and bunk beds – it didn’t really matter, because most of our time was spent outside kneeboarding, innertubing, and catching fireflies.

The second I turned 14, I got my state boating license and my first taste of independence: I could jet ski – alone! – from our dock to my best friend’s. She would hop on board and we’d spend all afternoon touring the lake, stopping for ice cream cones instead of lunch.


The house’s top deck is the best spot to view the lake.


Before too long, and much to our delight, my parents, Jan and Andy Ammons, decided to invest in a lake house of their own. They found a simple A-frame with great bones in a cove just off the main lake. As I grew up, so did the house: Hardwood floors replaced linoleum, cable railing opened up the view from our deck, and creaky ping-pong tables made way for pool. But while our weekend shack became a bona fide family home over the years, our love of the place has always been less about the space itself than about our time together in it. Or our time together outside it. Now, we end most days by piling into the boat and heading out to a certain spot on the water near mile marker 11 to watch the sunset. Sipping cocktails and listening to classic rock, we talk about nothing in particular. This “sunset cruise” has become a tradition; the latest memory-making ritual that to me is what summer is all about.

Pit Stops

Here are a few spots worth checking out on your way to or from Lake Gaston, plus some to visit while you’re there.

Flip Flops Bar at
Shady Shack Grill

Palm trees and bright colors distinguish this hangout, where no shirt or shoes are required.

183 Hendricks Mill Rd., Bracey, Va.



Lakeland Theatre

Great for family-friendly entertainment, Littleton’s community theatre will this month perform Shrek The Musical, Jr. and Laugh In, a collection of gag skits based on a television show from the late ’60s.

411 Mosby Ave., Littleton, N.C.



Munchie Wagon

Norlina’s version of a food truck makes great road trip fuel, especially the $3 cheeseburger (order it with slaw).

Corner of Hwy. 158 and Hycko Rd., Norlina, N.C.


The Pointe at Eaton’s Ferry

Located right by the prominent Eaton’s Ferry Bridge, this spot is on a lake main drag. Think tiki bar, live music, fried seafood platters, and familiar faces.

1865 Eaton Ferry Rd., Littleton, N.C.



Ridgeway Cantaloupes

Around these parts, everybody knows the best cantaloupes come from Ridgeway. Many locals will tell you it’s the state’s cantaloupe capital, and every July the unincorporated community hosts a Cantaloupe Festival.

Produce stands are along Hwy. 1, Ridgeway, N.C.

When traveling on I-85, try taking exit 226 for Ridgeway Road.


Ridgeway Opry House

Every Saturday night and some Fridays, head to this historic little building for good ol’ bluegrass jams. Words to the wise: Save room for a slice of the homemade cakes and pies. And if you happen to imply that you’ve maybe ever barely touched an instrument, you’ll likely be dragged onstage, like it or not.

704 Hwy. 1 S., Ridgeway, N.C.



Roost Crossroads Antiques & Collectors Mall

A place to find hidden gems with local flair, like vintage small town farmers’ market posters.

135 Hwy. 1 S., Norlina, N.C.



Rosemont of Virginia

Lake Gaston straddles the North Carolina-Virginia border, and not far over the state line is this vineyard. Try the dry rosé for summertime sipping.

1050 Blackridge Rd., LaCrosse, Va.



Washburn’s Marina

What appears to be a standard gas station and convenience store also has a kitchen serving up some of the best breakfast biscuits around. If you feel adventurous, try the “torpedo”: scrambled eggs, cheese, and sausage all rolled up into a pancake.

2192 River Rd., Henrico, N.C.



WatersView Restaurant

While still pretty casual, this is the lakeside place for a finer seafood meal. During the summer, there’s a little ice cream window on the back side of the building that’s open during the daytime.

2107 Eaton Ferry Rd., Littleton, N.C.



Homeowner Andy Ammons is an avid duck hunter. In the living room, a tundra swan overlooks, from left to right: a mallard, ring necked duck, hooded merganser, and American wigeon.



Bluetick coonhound Bea is good company on the dock.



The downstairs game room features a pool table, nautical code flags spelling out “Ammons,” and lobster trap buoys painted by homeowner Jan Ammons.



Jan Ammons grew up coming to Lake Gaston with her family. Now, the wooden ski she holds (made by her father, Frank Fearrington), serves as lake house decor.



Jessie Ammons and her father, Andy Ammons, paddle around the cove in Hurricane lightweight kayaks, made in Warsaw, N.C.



The dock has ample space for hanging out, especially in a hammock chair made on the Outer Banks.



Daily “sunset cruises” on the boat are a tradition.



From left, Fred Weir joins Jan Ammons, Jessie Ammons, and Deborah Weir on the pontoon boat. The Weirs and the Ammonses are neighbors in North Raleigh and also at the lake.



Flags represent all of the Ammons’ college alma maters and the family’s favorite sports teams.