"Chincoteague Then and Now"
by Sam Serio
As enduring as the sea which surrounds it, yet as changeable as the yielding sands of their shores, the island of Chincoteague and Assateague have stretched in a gentle north-south curve along the blue expanse of Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's Eastern Shore for some four thousand years. Built of wind-and-water-driven sand deposits, they are separated from the mainland by an expanse of coastal marshes and bays.
Nearly 25 miles of Chincoteague's shoreline is, in fact, marshland, and the island's solid ground seldom rises more than ten feet above sea level. Its windswept coastline and waterways have given Chincoteague statue as one of Virginia's top tourist destinations, with the Assateague National Seashore and the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge now drawing more than a million people to the two islands each year.
Chincoteague's permanent population of around 4500 proud, independent and welcoming souls is more than happy to treat their visitors to a life of small-town charm and all the delights of maritime culture. With the 1922 opening of the causeway connecting Chincoteague to the Virginia mainland, Chincoteague Island gradually transitioned from a hunters' and fishers' vacation paradise to a warm island haven where family beaches, bike paths bed-and-breakfasts, and ice cream parlors (not to mention some of the world's best seafood!) attract tourists from every corner of America.
The first European to see Chincoteague, in 1524, was Giovanni da Verranzano, an explorer for the French crown. In 1608 British Captain John Smith wrote of having visited an area which is now encompassed in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Captain Smith wrote of this spot that "Heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man's habitation."
His opinion of Chincoteague mirrored that of the Indian tribe who gave the island its name. Chincoteague, to the Indians, meant "Beautiful land across the water." When you first witness a sunset gliding the marshes of Chincoteague, you'll know exactly what they meant!
Three centuries after Captain Smith made his exploration of Chesapeake Bay, the Town of Chincoteague was officially incorporated and has now celebrated its 100-year anniversary. Running on a north-south line along Chincoteague Island's western shore, the Town of Chincoteague's Main Street has kept its 20th century character. A stroll along Main Street will take you past family managed seafood restaurants and hotels, interspersed With art galleries, gift, and antiques shops. Glimpses of Chincoteague Bay shine through the gaps between the Main Street stores and restaurants.
The Island and Town of Chincoteague have seen their share of tragedies down the years. The Island was struck by a deadly hurricane in 1821, and again by Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The worst storm ever to hit the Island and Town, however, occurred in March of 1962.
Chincoteague came through the Civil war as the only part of Virginia which sided with the Union. In 1920 a fire destroyed much of Main Street. through it all, the Islanders have proven as resilient as the Chincoteague ponies and the marsh codgrass on which they survive. Even after three centuries, Chincoteague's story is just beginning.