In this day and age, it’s rare to hear about a town that has escaped the rush of time and technology. While many are familiar with the charm of small town life in Virginia, few realize there’s a place that exists without cars. While it may sound foreign, and perhaps too good to believe, it’s the reality for the folks of Tangier Island. Here’s more about this Chesapeake Bay community that is particularly devoted to honoring its past.
Welcome to Tangier Island: a tiny town in Virginia located just twelve miles off the coast of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. It’s considered part of Accomack County and had a population of 725 at the time of the 2010 U.S. census. To set foot on this beautiful island is to witness a place that has retained its character and meaningful way of life despite the passage of time.
The Island itself is a series of smaller islands which are divided by marshes and streams. These smaller islands are connected by bridges. There’s actually another island north of Tangier which has since become abandoned because the stream between the two pieces of land became too large to build a bridge over.
There are no bridges to the mainland, however, and the easiest way of getting there is by boat. It was by that same mode of transportation that English settlers first arrived in the 1600s. Most were from Southwest England and what’s fascinating is that many residents of the island still speak in the Restoration-era dialect, not unlike the original settlers.
While this way of life may seem peaceful, it has by no means always been an easy one. For centuries, residents of Tangier have counted on the crabbing industry to support the economy. Known as the “soft shell capital of the world,” Tangier is home to hard-working fisherman who have passed on their trade for many generations.
There’s also another factor of the island that’s highly unusual, even among other small towns in Virginia: no cars.
Instead, residents and visitors navigate by means of golf carts and bicycles. The physical size of the island would make it difficult to have large vehicles, and there’s really no need for them.
While it may seem that Tangier is completely isolated, there are in fact many ways in which its residents can stay connected to the mainland. There’s a small airport on the island, many boats which regularly carry passengers and mail to and from the island and, of course, cable television. Photographed above is the town’s post office.
And Tangier doesn’t keep to itself, either. It couldn’t be warmer toward visitors, encouraging folks to make reservations at the local bed & breakfasts. Strolling around on this unique island, you’re bound to see fisherman hard at work, restaurants serving up the freshest catch, and children selling lemonade or another form of craft on the street.
It’s not just the way of life that has been preserved, it’s the beautiful surroundings, from the pristine marshes to the pretty waters of the Chesapeake. These waters provide a unique and precious ecosystem and towns such as Tangier are committed to using the land resourcefully and responsibly.
If you have the chance to visit, you'll enjoy learning more about this unique and fascinating corner of Virginia.