Visiting this island is like touching time. Shanty houses on stilts hinting of a once blustering crabbing industry guided us gently into the harbor where Mr. Milton Parks, 87-year resident greeted us with a broad smile and yesteryear stories.
It’s a quick walk from the dock into the little town that boasts a gravel main street lined by houses and white-washed grown grey businesses. There is no need for cars on this 3 mile by 3 mile island so I laughed at the sign saying “SPEED CHECKED BY RADAR.”That was until a golf cart whizzed by me at a speed far surpassing the 15 mile warning!
If you can envision a waning Mayberry RFD, you will know this island and its people.
Tangier Island dates back over 250 years and boasts recognition of being the main base of operations for the British fleet during the War of 1812. From Ft. Albion, the Brits planned the burning of Washington D.C., attacks on Baltimore, and the bombing of Fort Mc Henry, during which time our national anthem was written.
Tangier is also a place where hundreds of escaped slaves first stepped foot on land as free men, women, and children before joining the British Colonial Marines or relocating to new homelands. A century later the beaches of Tangier hosted 47 years of camp meetings preached by the “Parson of the Island” bringing hundreds, if not thousands to Christianity.
There is a sadness to this island, but it’s not in the people. It lives in the knowledge that it will one day be gone, as the island loses up to 15 feet of shoreline per year. It is estimated Tangier Island will be uninhabitable in less than 30 years. Here is a great article on the specifics of its fate. With this knowledge, the population has dropped almost by half in the last decade, but the remaining population of 470 residents were delightful and friendly people with a lingering style of speech believed to have descended from early Elizabethan-era settlers.
There is one church, one school, one grocery store, and a few gift stores. The "stores" reminded me more of a bait shop from back home, and I chuckled as we asked the local gift shop attendee when the shop closed and she explained "everything closes at 4 pm because we all go to our real job at the restaurants".
It appears tourists are ferried over from Smith Island and Crisfield to experience fresh crab dishes made at Lorraine’s Seafood Restaurant or Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House, which was launched in 1939 and serves family-style meals. Unfortunately, we are both allergic to shell fish, so we weren't able to enjoy, but here are a few of their famous recipes featured in Southern Living magazine.
One to the last true working waterman communities and an island that immerses you in past, present, and future all at the same time, my heart was touched and the memory of our day will live on for years to come.
Tangier Island James Parks Marina Amenities: Tangier Sound, Just below the Virginia-Maryland State line
Dockage: only 25 slips, $5 for a short stay, $20 for overnight and you’ll be greeted by Mr.
Milton “Gander” Park himself.
Fuel is at Smith Island Oil Company just past the Marina
50 amp power
ATM is located on the front porch of Four Brothers Crab Deck
A beautiful experience of pausing life