Assateague Island History

History of Assateague Island

Settlers and Colonists began using Assateague Island in the 17th Century for grazing livestock to avoid fencing regulations and taxation.  This is generally considered the theory of how the ponies arrived but another more romantic theory suggests the ponies came from a Spanish Galleon shipwreck during this period.  Shipwrecks in this area were frequent due to shifting sand bars and the unpredictable offshore shoals. On October 10th, 1891 President Benjamin Harrison's yacht the Dispatch ran aground approximately 75 yards off shore. Shipwreck sites are still exposed occasionally by storms.
Assateague Island LighthouseThe first Assateague Lighthouse was constructed in 1833. In 1867 this was replaced with a taller more powerfully illuminating structure. In 1932, the lighthouse oil lamps were replaced by an electric lamp, and the original keeper's house was removed. Today the 1910 assistant keeper's house is used as seasonal staff residence and the oil storage building is used as an art gallery during summer months. The lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most photographed lighthouses in North America.

In the 1800ís a small population began to live on the island with the development of an oyster industry and other commercial fisheries.  By the turn of the century Assateague Village had a population of 225 and had a school, a store and a couple churches. The village began to decline around 1922 when most of the land on the Virginia portion was purchased by Dr. Samuel Fields of Baltimore. In 1943, the Fields family sold their land to the U.S. Government for use as a National Wildlife Refuge.


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