Virginia Barrier Islands



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The Virginia Inside Passage lies behind a string of barrier islands stretching from Chincoteague Island to Cape Charles at the tip of the Delmarva penninsula.




Between the Atlantic Ocean and the low pine covered mainland of the Virginia pennisula, lies a chain of natural barrier islands. Once sparsely inhabited by dedicated and strongly religous settlers, 14 of these island are owned by the Nature Conservancy and completely uninhabited. Only Cedar Island is inhabited. It Virginia Barrier Islands is home to abondoned Coast Guard stations, lighthouses reclaimed by time and the sea and watch towers from World War II. It is a world famous laboratory for study of barrier islands. The Virgina Coast Reserve, one of eighteen sites in the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Research Program is located here. It lies on the migratory fly way of the Atlantic coast. For all these reasons and many others, it is an interesting place to kayak.

Map of Virginia Inside passage and Barrier Islands

Virginia Inside Passage



Cape Charles Lighthouse
National Park Service Photo



Near the southern tip of this region is Cape Charles, where the Chesapeake Bay empties into the Atlantic Ocean. There on Smith Island is the nation's second tallest lighhouse, Cape Charles Light. (Cape Hatteras is the tallest.) Smith Island has seen many famous visitors. The original lighthouse in the first light tower built by the Federal government.

Excerpt from Matthew Jenkins Cape Charles Lighthouse stands on Smith Island, VA, a wildlife refuge on the Atlantic Ocean side of the northern mouth of the Bay, that is reachable only by boat. (This should not be confused with the more well known Smith Island, MD.) Like the Cape Henry Lights, Cape Charles could be considered an Atlantic coast light and is sized accordingly. This is the fourth tower to be built at this location. The first was a 60 foot white masonry tower commissioned in 1828. That light proved inadequate and construction on a new, larger tower was begun in 1856. The new tower was only partially completed in 1862 when it was destroyed by Confederate raiders. More funds were appropriated and a 150 foot brick tower was completed under Union guard in 1864. However shore erosion was severe. In 1889 it was condemned and was finally toppled by a severe storm in 1927. The current tower was built in 1895 about a mile west of its predecessor. It consists of an iron column containing steps to the lantern, supported by an external, octagonal, iron skeleton. During World War II, three cement observation towers were built close to the light and used to look for German U-boats. The light was fully automated in 1963 and the ten foot tall, one ton, first order Fresnel lens moved to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA. While the lighthouse tower stands in good working order and continues to be used as an aid to navigation, a fire burned down the keepers dwellings in the summer of 2000.


Fresnel Lens from Cape Charles Lighthouse
Fresnel Lens of original Cape Charles Light
Photo by Phil Payette





At the very southern southern tip of this region is the site of Fisherman's Island Military Reservation.

A Marine Hospital & Quarantine Station was located here around 1890. Guns and troops were stationed here during World War I (from 1917 to 1919). The Coast Artillery returned in 1942. The Army gave the island to the Navy in 1949 but they stopped using it by 1969. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was built across it in 1962. In 1973, the Dept. of the Interior received the island, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service started their operations here in 1984. All of Fishermans Island is Fishermans Island National Wildlife Refuge. Public visitation on the island is NOT allowed.


Hog Island LighthouseHog Island Light


In the middle of the area is Hog Island. Once the home of 250 residents, Broadwater was located on the southern end of the island. Now only an abandoned Coast Guard station and a watch tower remain. The University of Virginia maintains an Internet viewable directable camera on the tower.

The large lighthouse pictured to the left once stood on high ground protected by 30 foot high sand dunes. By the 1920's much of that land was eroded. the lighthouse was destroyed by advancing ocean waves. The land the lighthouse stood on is now underwater and out to sea. The southern end of the island is no higher than 12 feet now. The forest pictured here is no longer sustainable.

The 10-foot high lens from the lighthouse was saved before the final destruction of the facility. It was loaned to the City of Portsmouth, VA some 30 years ago and has been sitting in storage since.

Plans call for a large replica of the lantern room to be constructed at an exhibit pavilion. The lens will be installed in the replica lantern room and will rest on a small rotating mechanism. The cost of the pavilion to display the historic lens is estimated to be $600,000. The money will come from the Portsmouth Museums Foundation



Virginia Islands Trip Report....
Chincoteague Trip Report.......
Watchapreague Trip Report....
Chincoteague Skills Weekend....

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