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Virginia's Barrier Islands

This blog documents some of the notable locations on Virginia’s barrier islands and displays some of the photographs I have taken of them. I found it hard to find historic photographs and detailed accounts of man-made structures on the barrier islands, and it was especially difficult to find location information for those structures, so include Google Maps links to the exact location of the places described. The islands are constantly changing causing locations to disappear beneath the waves, new land to form, and channels in the marshes to move, appear, or disappear. All in all it is difficult to find information on these barrier islands and the remnants of man on them which led me to create this blog. If you read this and either know a location I missed or that I have something wrong, please comment so I can fix it.

Shortly after I moved to Virginia in 2005 some of my family visited and I accompanied them across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to Assateague Island on the Eastern Shore. After that, I would go to Assateague every couple years but would almost always go straight to Assateague and back because I was focused purely on wildlife and bird photography. While there, I would sometimes visit the Assateague Lighthouse and even climbed it a couple times.

In 2008 I made my first trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. While visiting and climbing lighthouses there and reading about the lives of those who manned them I gained an interest in the US Lighthouse Establishment (USLHE) and lighthouses in general. I admire the simple, solitary lifestyles of the people who manned the lighthouses and would probably be happy as a lighthouse keeper if the job still existed today. Life at Life Saving Stations in the US Life Saving Service (USLSS) was similar to that of a lighthouse keeper and my interest soon expanded from just lighthouses to those stations as well.

What does this have to do with the barrier islands in Virginia? Well, for years I saw and wanted to visit the Cape Charles Lighthouse but it is on an island and can only be reached by boat. While researching the Cape Charles Lighthouse I also learned about the various Life Saving Stations, the Hog Island Lighthouse, the hunt clubs, and the hotels that once operated on the barrier islands. Traces of humanity on the barrier islands are slowly being wiped out by erosion and storms. My goal is to visit and document those traces in photographs while they still exist. Thus, I started taking my kayak to the Eastern Shore in 2020 and made a couple trips out to the barrier islands, although I will make more in the future since there are still places I have yet to visit.

Barrier Island Transportation

My water transportation; a Hobie Passport 10.5 with a bimini cover.  I keep my photo gear in a dry bag on the back and a cooler with drinks and snacks on the front.

My water transportation; a Hobie Passport 10.5 with a bimini cover. I keep my photo gear in a dry bag on the back and a cooler with drinks and snacks on the front.

Map of Virginia's Barrier Islands

I could not find a single map that showed the islands, their names, and general location so made my own. Feel free to take it and use it. This map shows the major islands present, although some like Ship Shoal are mostly marsh and sand, and I didn’t include minor ones like Holly Bluff (north of Raccoon), Godwin (due west of Ship Shoal), Mink (due west of Myrtle), or Little Cobb (west of the southern tip of Cobb from the Cobb Island Life Saving Station ruins).

I list locations North to South, following the order of the islands: Assateague, Wallops, Assawoman, Metompkin, Cedar, Parramore, Revel, Sandy, Hog, Rogue, Cobb, Wreck, Ship Shoal, Mockhorn, Myrtle, Skidmore, Smith, Raccoon, and Fisherman.


Assateague:

Algonquin for swift moving water.  Assateague, Wallops, and Fisherman are the only barrier islands you can drive to.

Assateague Lighthouse is located on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. There is an entrance fee to the refuge and, when open, you can pay to climb the lighthouse. Built in 1867 to replace an 1833 lighthouse the location and fate of which are unknown. https://goo.gl/maps/42QP8beor17HZEwB6

Assateague Beach Coast Guard Station built 1922, boathouse built 1939, decommissioned 1967. The original station was built 1875 and located across Tom’s Cove near where Beach Access Road turns. However, it is unknown what happened to the original station and no trace of it remains. The link is to the current station on Tom’s Cove.https://goo.gl/maps/pw5xBNJQNRFzLrCs6

Assateague Lighthouse

Assateague Beach Coast Guard Station

Wallops:

Named after John Wallops. Gifted to him by King of England.

Wallops Island Life Saving Station. Original was built 1883 on beach at NE point of island but was wiped out by the August 1933 hurricane. New station built 1935 but discontinued in 1947. Not open to the public because it is located on NASA’s Wallops Flight Test Facility. Likely going to be either moved if auctioned off or torn down. If I had the funds and land I would save it! https://goo.gl/maps/LkD7eRxWwt6dsREx9

Assawoman: Nothing of note man-made that I could find.


Metompkin: Nothing of note man-made present today that I could find.

Metomkin Life Saving Station. Built 1888, moved in 1894 and again in 1914 to escape the continued encroachment of the ocean. Was located at the south end of the island but was destroyed by the 1933 hurricane.


Cedar:

Metomkin Inlet life Saving Station. Also spelled Metompkin, but the original sign in the Barrier Island Center has no “p”. The station was built in 1935 to replace the Metomkin Life Saving Station, given to Virginia in 1957, decommissioned in 1964, served as hotel for an unknown time period, and later purchased by a group of families who still own it. https://goo.gl/maps/JAEtpt8msBZfLQgu9

Now out in the sea but Laura J washed ashore around 2010. It was 100 yards off shore in 2015 and has likely completely disappeared below waves now.

27 houses had been built there in the 1990s but last one fell into ocean in 2014; likely no traces remain.

Wachapreague Life Saving Station. Built 1875 at south end of Cedar but wiped out by 1933 hurricane and the crew and function were merged into the Parramore Station. The Wachapreague Coast Guard Station is currently in the town of Wachapreague.


Metomkin Inlet Life Saving Station

Parramore:

Named after Thomas Parramore in the 1600s. Previously known as Fetches Island.

Accomack Club, formed 1887 near Wachapreague. Not actually on Parramore but in the marshes behind it. Location is my best guess based on pilings visible. https://goo.gl/maps/S8sH1mQH6rRHfq887

Parramore Beach Life Saving Station built in 1870 on the ocean. A second one was built in 1937 on the west side of the island and abandoned in 1940. The 1937 station and boathouse burned to the ground by a fire in 1989 which was likely caused by a lightning strike. Only the garage remains. Uncertain what happened to the original 1870 station but link is to the 1937 station garage. https://goo.gl/maps/kyh4BemLp3aXc2cU8

Esk 1888 shipwreck.  When I visited the Parramore Beach Life Saving Station I planned to walk clockwise along the beach around the island to photograph this shipwreck but was stopped by a jumble of trees in the ocean far enough out that it was too deep to safely walk around them. I may have had better luck if I had visited at low tide.  https://goo.gl/maps/4HxKBV6EQDc57Hdg6

Parramore Island Club. It was originally built at north side of island in 1920s, but the 1933 hurricane wiped out the support pilings so it was moved to the current location and the name was changed to the Holly Island Club (not to be confused with Holly Bluff Island further south). Only pier remnants now visible along with an unknown building on the actual island. https://goo.gl/maps/C2UFKdDnbHjPESnt7

Impassable northeast corner of Parramore Island.

Parramore Beach Life Saving Station

Revel:

Named after the Revell family who I believe first owned the island in the 1600s.

Revel Island Shooting Club ruin. Only chimneys remain. Was also known as the Old Dominion Gun and Tackle Club. https://goo.gl/maps/9gSrPctqS3yJiHhG6


Sandy: Nothing of note man-made that I could find.


Hog:

Little Machipongo Coast Guard Station built of brick in 1959 and abandoned in 1963. Demolished in the 2010s by the Nature Conservancy so only ground remains, although Google Maps’ outdated satellite view imagery still shows the building in 2020. https://goo.gl/maps/WaKuacxVmmA1Y8AN8

Hog Island Life Saving Station was built 1875 at the south end of the island, moved in 1878 and again in 1889 to escape erosion, washed into the ocean during an 1898 storm, was rebuilt in 1899, then was completely destroyed during the 1933 hurricane. A replacement was built in 1936 at the west end of Broadwater and burned down in 1987. Link is to the 1936 station’s foundation and watch tower, which are all that remain. https://goo.gl/maps/kL9kmWm9NXQpTTG39

Hog Island Lighthouse was built in 1896 and was identical to the Cape Charles Lighthouse except it was painted black. It was built to replace an original brick lighthouse constructed in 1853 but lost in a 1938 hurricane due to erosion of the island. This 1896 tower was dynamited in 1948 prior to also ending up in the ocean. The concrete foundation was visible in the surf in the 1950s but in 2020 is at least a half mile out to sea. Link is to where I believe it was located which is currently in the Atlantic Ocean. https://goo.gl/maps/fmYKoU87ixnsrY2A8

Broadwater Club. Built in 1886. President Grover Cleveland visited. Torn down in early 1900s and lumber used to build houses in Broadwater. Original location unknown but likely now underwater.

Fowling Point Hunt Club. Not actually on Hog island, but in marshes closer to mainland. Built 1903 by the Regal Manufacturing Company. It had a generator for power and a pump that provided running water. Building still stands although the next big storm may mark its end. https://goo.gl/maps/hbG4XVhw9N4pRP6z7


Fowling Point Hunt Club

Rogue: Nothing of note man-made that I could find.

Named because Blackbeard and his men used it as a hiding place.


Cobb:

Named after Nathan Cobb who bought the island in 1839.

Cobb Island Lifesaving Station ruins (in water). Original built 1877. New one built just North of original in 1936 which was decommissioned in 1964. The Nature Conservancy bought the new one in 1973 then moved it to Oyster, VA in 1998 partially out of concern for losing the station to a fire caused by a lightning strike, which is what likely caused the Parramore Island Life Saving Station to burn down. First link is to the original station location where the ruins remain in the water just to the south. The location where the new station now in Oyster used to be is clearly visible to the north. https://goo.gl/maps/BMmqJPPzECqjyAx5A  Second link is to the new station's current location (privately owned & not open to visitation). https://goo.gl/maps/13cbepvLw3MHo8Fp6

Elkins Hunt Club ruin. Not actually on Cobb Island, but in marshes closer to mainland & N of Mockhorn. It was owned by a Mr. Elkins from West Virginia (possibly Senator Stephen Elkins) but was destroyed in the 1933 hurricane. Only the pilings and chimney remain. https://goo.gl/maps/6j97FkkinNd311J79


Wreck: Nothing of note man-made that I could find.


Ship Shoal: Nothing of note man-made that I could find.


Mockhorn:

Mockhorn Island WW2 Fire Control Towers: https://goo.gl/maps/GtfJeFzhtMSV7UJC6

Cushman Hunt Club/Lodge which was built in 1902 by Larimer Cushman by expanding on a hunting lodge that already existed. https://goo.gl/maps/QuT5Qt1es6aRSQ5JA


Cushman's Landing with WWII fire control towers on Mockhorn Island in distance.

Cushman's Hunt Club

Myrtle: Nothing of note man-made that I could find.


Skidmore:

Named after the family who lived there in the 1900s.

Two old houses rotting away in woods presumably built and owned by the Skidmores. The remnants of their concrete pier is visible in the water on the northwest side of the island too. https://goo.gl/maps/n6cu85XyzhRikGUL8


Holly Bluff (as seen from Skidmore)

Smith:

Cape Charles Lighthouse. Built 1892 to replace two prior brick lighthouses both lost to erosion. Fresnel lens moved to Mariner’s Museum in 1963. Keeper’s dwelling burned down in 2000. Replacement light went out in 2013 and the lighthouse was delisted as an aid to navigation in 2019. I visited in September and can’t recall ever visiting a more mosquito and chigger-infested location. Even with a thick layer of mosquito repellant applied I was still practically eaten alive. Long sleeves and pants are recommended for those visiting in September when the island re-opens after bird nesting season. https://goo.gl/maps/dmN6eatH5G3TL8y9A

Used to have Smith Island Life Saving Station, but only parts of pier remain. Original built in 1875 and replacement built 1916. Closed in 1955. No visible trace of the station on site, although the brush and trees on the island have grown up considerably so may be hiding foundations.


Cape Charles Ligthhouse

Raccoon: Nothing of note man-made that I could find.


Fisherman:

The newest barrier island having formed in the 1800s. Rumor has it that it formed around a British linen ship that ran aground on shoals in the area, although those shoals were the actual start of the island’s formation and the ship may at most have accelerated the formation.

WWII military battery remnants. https://goo.gl/maps/ZaDgH5gqjsF37JgX9


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