By Renée S. Gordon
The first recorded mention of the Eastern Shore is in a 1603 account by Thomas Canner who was part of a party searching for the Roanoke Colony. Thomas Savage, 11 years later, became the first permanent non-native settler. Today the Eastern Shore consists of 45,000-acres of beach, 14 islands and the longest and final stretch of undeveloped coastline on the eastern seaboard. www.esvatourism.org
Our final destination before leaving the Eastville area is in Machipongo at the Barrier Islands Center. This gem of a museum complex is located on 18-acres in and on the grounds of a former Alms House. The poor were housed here from the 1880s until 1952. The African American destitute were housed in a separate building in the rear.
The two-story museum interprets the history of the region through extensive use of artifacts, photographs and information panels. The exhibits are thematic and galleries highlight the 1700s plantations, smuggling activities, Blackbeard, the people and unique island culture.
Area artists have created crafts for the gift shop. Here you can purchase a decoration made by Mary Onley, “Mama Girl,” an African American whose decoration adorned the White House Xmas tree. www.barrierislandscenter.com
Free Open Studio and Vineyard Tours will be held on November 26-28. The trail includes 11 studios, workshops and galleries and two vineyards and wineries. Tours are self-driving and information is available at www.esartisansgild.org
Accomac Shire, one of the first eight counties in Virginia, was established in 1634. The shire was split into two counties in 1663 with the northern region of Virginia’s Eastern Shore retaining the original Indian name with the addition of a “k” at the end.
People of African descent were always part of the fabric of Accomack, so much so that in 1790, the first census documented 12,866 free blacks residing in the county. Ten years later more African Americans lived there than any other area of the South, with the vast majority being enslaved. Pungoteague, “Place of Fine Sand,” Creek was the location of a pre-revolutionary African American settlement, possibly the first in America, founded by freedman Anthony Johnson.
Onancoke is a pearl nestled by the waters of Onancoke Creek. The town, though chartered in 1680, was the home of Native Americans prior to first contact and the word “Onancoke” means “foggy place.” Originally referred to as Port Scarburgh, it was a port city with a market. Land was sold in half-acre parcels for 100-lbs of tobacco per lot. www.onancock.org
Onancock Harbor functioned as a dock for a small number of slave ships from the end of the 17th-century to 1775. Most ships went to larger ports but records indicate that smaller ships, often transporting children, landed here with the majority of the ships coming from the Caribbean.
The town is filled with historic homes, churches and shops and walking tour brochures are available. The Historical Society is housed in the Federal-style (1799-1803) Ker Place. The two-story red brick house has been meticulously restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. www.kerplace.org
The sheer number of eateries in Onancoke can be overwhelming but one you should not miss is situated inside the boutique Charlotte Hotel. This award-winning, fine-dining restaurant serves cuisine that includes local seafood and produce. www.thecharlottehotel.com
The Inn and Garden Café, an African American owned establishment, is a perfect place for a romantic getaway or solitary retreat. All of the standard amenities are provided plus books, CDs, DVDs, games and exceptional hospitality. The gourmet breakfast here achieves the level of art and a stay at the inn is an exceptional experience. www.theinnandgardencafe.com
Wachawampe, the Emperor of the Gingo Teagues, gave title to Chincoteague Island to William Whitington in 1662.
Chincoteague, Virginia’s only island resort, is famous for its oysters, clams, fishing and wild ponies. A causeway and a bridge access the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge, the most visited in the country. Only 10-miles from the mainland, the refuge has 14,000-acres of beaches, dunes, saltwater marsh, maritime forest, three distinct habitats, more than 320 bird species, as well as abundant wildlife and plants.
The Bateman Visitors Center is a green building with gallery displays, dioramas, videos and a walk-through wetland. Tram and driving tours are available and cover a 3.2-mile wildlife loop.www.chincoteaguechamber.com
Assateague Island National Seashore is most famous for the two herds of wild ponies that make their home there. There are several theories as to how they came to be there but the most generally accepted is that they swam ashore after a Spanish galleon, La Galga, was shipwrecked in the area on September 5, 1750.
The 142-ft. Asssateague Island Lighthouse, the second on site, dates from 1867. It is brick, 27.6-ft. in diameter at its widest point and has been red and white striped since the 1960s. Tours are offered and the panoramic view is awesome.
Woody’s Beach Barbecue, “a culinary shakedown joint”, is an outstanding dining experience. Orders are taken at series of beach huts, each with a specialty, and the food is excellent. Everything on the menu is made on-site and they serve 2 to 3,000-lbs. of barbecue per week. I guarantee you will waddle away. www.woodysbeachbbq.com
The Marine Science Consortium was established by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education in 1968 and is currently in the process of a $15-million revitalization. One of the consortium’s goals is to educate the public and this is accomplished through a series of innovative and creative multidisciplinary and intergenerational programs. Participants can select from activities including family camps, workshops working with endangered species, birding, stargazing and wildlife photography. Dates, times and offerings vary and may be viewed on the website. www.roadscholar.org and www.msconsortium.org
Virginia’s Eastern Shore can take you from sea to sky in a matter of a few miles. NASA Wallops Flight Facility is a 6,000-acre campus that has been the location of 16,000 launches in its 64-year history and is positioned to launch larger rockets, the 70-ft. Minotaur and 120-ft. Taurus II, beginning in 2011. Wallops opened in 1945 as a center for aeronautic research and in 1982 it became NASA’s primary management and implementation facility for suborbital research programs.
The public is invited to come and witness a launch, a schedule is available online, and they are handicapped accessible. Visitors should be mindful of the facts that most launches take only .50-seconds to get off the pad, all launches are webcast and that launches are dependent upon weather conditions.
Tours are available but groups must give two-weeks notice. There is a small museum with interactive displays, videos, artifacts, Science on a Sphere Theater, rooftop observation deck and gift shop. www.nasa.gov/wallops
Virginia’s Eastern Shore is one-tank of gas from Philadelphia and it’s a great way to spend a day, a weekend or a week. www.Virginia.org/fall
I wish you smooth and enchanting travels!