History is about change…nothing stays “the way it was” forever! Just as the shifting sands sculpt the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean, past events and people have shaped Chincoteague Island’s landscape and culture into what it is today. Chincoteague’s rich heritage is unique and captivating, tangible and tempting, seductive and charming. We invite you to explore the “historical spirit” of Chincoteague Island with itineraries and trip ideas to please all history lovers.
It all started with a series of fires…. Pony Penning that is. Two fires occurred at opposite sides of town in the 1920’s that destroyed much of the Main Street commercial district due to a lack of effective firefighting equipment. Chincoteaguers were determined to never let that happen again. Thus, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company was born and a fundraising pony swim and auction was the brainchild of its founders. The wild Chincoteague Ponies have become famous in their own right and are a huge part of our present as well as our past. For over 95 years, young and old from near and far line the shores of Assateague Channel in late July to participate in this historical event that inspired Marguerite Henry’s award winning Misty of Chincoteague in 1947 and a Hollywood movie in 1961. Take a “Step Through Time” guided tour along Historic Main Street and learn how the fires influenced Chincoteague’s future along with other interesting facts about our island town. One tour includes the Beebe Ranch where Misty of Chincoteague lived with her very real family!
Learn more about Misty of Chincoteague, the Beebe family, and our rich island history at the Museum of Chincoteague Island. Explore our fascinating oyster industry and how it has changed over the years. Did you know that Chincoteague Island sided with the North in the Civil War when the rest of Virginia seceded from the Union? It was all about the oysters! Meet some of our colorful decoy carvers through displays of their talented works of art. Frequently changing exhibits make the Museum of Chincoteague Island a new experience each time you visit. A celebration of Heritage Days will take place virtually from March 25-28. Be sure to visit either virtually or in person and learn more about our island existence. Bookstores and Specialty Shops carry local history books and offer another source to learn about our fascinating past like the Ash Wednesday Storm.
Driving south along Main Street will offer a glimpse of some of the oldest homes on the island with their lovely front porches facing the Chincoteague Bay. There are even a few Sears Roebuck homes tucked in amongst new construction down a few streets. The oldest home on the island, Captain Timothy Hill House, circa 1800, can be found on north Main Street (check their website for tour information). Biking the island is the perfect way to see these lovely old homes up close.
Chincoteague Island was not always accessible by car. The causeway from the mainland was opened in 1922, but it was another 40 years before a bridge was built over the Assateague Channel to connect the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague, our sister barrier island and home to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Assateague Island National Seashore. In 1962, tourism became a major industry and hotels and restaurants popped up to provide services to folks visiting our beautiful shores. Explore the pristine beaches and nature trails to experience what it might have been like to live in Assateague Village amongst the wild loblolly pines of the maritime forest. Visit the Assateague Lighthouse, built in 1833 to guide mariners along the ragged Atlantic coastline of northeastern Virginia. You will notice it does not stand directly on the shoreline now! Hike down to the “hook” (when not closed to nesting piping plovers) to see the Old Coast Guard Station originally built in 1874.
Our lives have been shaped by tides and time and we can’t wait for you to discover the secrets of our ancestors. Visit www.chincoteaguechamber.com to begin your historical journey into Chincoteague Island’s storied past to better understand its colorful present. While you are here, visit the local shops. Enjoy casual, coastal dining in an elegant restaurant, take out deli, or quaint little food truck. See the wild ponies (climb to the top of the Assateague Lighthouse when open to get an aerial view across the marsh), enjoy nature trails and miles of pristine beaches, take a boat cruise or kayak around the islands, and end the day with a breath-taking sunset from the balcony of your hotel, Bed & Breakfast or vacation rental, Robert Reed Downtown Waterfront Park, or Curtis Merritt Harbor. Once you have discovered our little corner of paradise, you will be beckoned back time and time again.
Chincoteague is for History Lovers Itinerary
Breakfast at your hotel, B&B, rental house or campground or in one of the many restaurants serving hot, full meals to get you started.
Learn about “The Chincoteague Story” with a self-guided historic walking/biking tour of the island. Explore the island’s many neighborhoods and visit the historic buildings in Historic Downtown and beyond. Tour maps also available at Chamber office at 6733 Maddox Boulevard. If you would rather listen to a local guide regale stories of bygone years, enjoy a guided history tour of Chincoteague Island (seasonal) and learn about local characters — maybe even a few ghosts!! Several tailored tours are available.
Visit the majestic, red and white striped Assateague Lighthouse built in 1867 on Assateague Island. Seasonally, learn about the lighthouse’s history from a docent and climb the 175-steps up the circular staircase to the top for majestic views of Assateague, Chincoteague and Wallops Islands as well as portions of coastal Virginia and Maryland. Enjoy a walk on the beach to see the old Coast Guard Life Saving Station at the southern end of Assateague Island.
Picnic at one of our beautiful waterfront parks with a boxed lunch from one of our many fabulous eateries or enjoy indoor dining at one of our wonderful restaurants.
Take a boat cruise around Chincoteague Island while learning more about Chincoteague and Assateague Island history from knowledgeable boat captains. Chincoteaguers have made their living off the waters of Chincoteague and Assateague Channels and the Atlantic Ocean for generations. The seafood industry (oystering and clamming) was the prime source of income for many islanders prior to the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962. You will pass by several active Aqua Farms as you enjoy your peaceful time on the water. You can even take a tour of one (seasonal).
Step back in time and visit the Museum of Chincoteague Island. Learn about the island’s rich history and traditions through various exhibits showcasing the first-order Fresnel lens from the Assateague Lighthouse, decoy carving, our famous pony, Misty of Chincoteague, and the Beebe Ranch where she grew up, the oyster industry, farming, our volunteer Fire Company, the Ash Wednesday Storm, and more.
Visit the Captain Timothy Hill House, Chincoteague Island’s oldest house; circa 1800. Now a historic house museum, guests are always welcome to visit. Discover the early sailing ships carved into the exterior logs on all sides of the house any time of year or take a tour with a docent during their summer hours.
Learn about the history of Misty of Chincoteague by visiting Miss Molly’s Inn Bed & Breakfast where Marguerite Henry wrote world famous children’s book in 1947 and art deco Island Theatre, circa 1945, to view Misty’s hoofprints which were cast in concrete at the movie premiere of Misty in 1961. Follow in Misty’s footsteps with the Misty Trail Map.
Meet a local carver to learn about decoy carving’s rich history and traditions.
Dine at one of our fine restaurants feasting on fresh from the waters, clams, world-famous Chincoteague Oysters, and the “catch of the day” which could be red drum, flounder, rockfish, or tuna.
Shop for treasures while strolling down Historic Main Street, with many buildings originating in the 1920’s. Antique stores are another pleasant source of historical finds on the island. There are many books available about the origins of our wild ponies. Check out our local gift shops and bookstores to dig deeper into the mysteries of our small island.
Explore the Eastern Shore’s museums and antique malls that are rich in history.
Complete your day with an ice cream sundae at one of our amazing ice cream parlors.
Check our events calendar for other special lectures, programs and events happening throughout the year.
Please note that some of these activities are seasonal or have been affected by the pandemic. Please contact the Chamber office or the business directly for availability.
Explore other Chincoteague Island Itineraries and Trails