Download in PDF Format
Virginia’s Eastern Shore — that narrow strip of land
between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean — is best known for
Chincoteague ponies, wildlife refuges, Assateague National Seashore,
incredible seafood and rocket launches from NASA’s Wallops Island.
What is lesser known are the numerous hidden treasures,
the tiny villages and towns found along the roads less traveled.
One of these is the village of Pungoteague, an
unincorporated area pretty much in the middle of the Virginia peninsula’s
Small Size, Big History
Though small in size, Pungoteague is big in history. The
name itself is a derivative of the Indian term “Pungotekw,” which means Sand
Fly River and is the name used by the earliest inhabitants. By the early
1600s, that Native American population had been greatly supplemented by
A historic marker in
the village designates the site of the first
play performed in America.
Among them was one Anthony Hodgkins. Mr. Hodgkins seems
to have been canny enough to capitalize on a lucrative opportunity. A
presiding justice, Hodgkins was among those assigned to Pungoteague when the
county court began meeting there in 1640. He also quickly became the first
licensed keeper of an ordinary on the Eastern Shore, and his tavern provided
for him well until his death.
One of the more notable cases heard by the county court
while it was still seated in Pungoteague resulted from a historic event.
It was a Saturday afternoon in late summer of 1665 when
William Darby and two of his friends dared present a play at Folkes Tavern.
Entitled The Bear and the Cub, this drama is believed to have been the first
theater performance in the New World. However, it opened — and closed — to
less-than-rave reviews after one member of the audience, John Martin, deemed
Ultimately, charges were brought against Darby and his
cohorts and they were ordered to repeat the performance for the court.
Apparently the justices were more inclined as patrons than the accuser and
pronounced the defendants not guilty. Martin was ordered to pay all the
court costs, including board for Darby, who had been held in jail while
Today, a state Historic Highway Marker is all that is
visible at this infamous Pungoteague site. Other historic locations are
found in the hamlet, however, such as Saint George’s Church. It is believed
that the first meetings of the Pungoteague Episcopal congregation were held
in 1636, with the church’s first building being constructed from 1666 to
St. George's Church in
Pungoteague is a registered National
The original frame church was replaced in 1736 by a brick
structure in the Flemish-bond pattern. However, Federal forces occupying the
area in the 1860s converted the sacred building into a stable, causing
irreparable damage to a portion of the church. The structure was rebuilt in
the late 1870s and remains in use today. Also remaining in use is the
communion chalice and paten set dated from 1734, a gift from Queen Elizabeth
Next door to Saint George’s is another historic church.
St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church was established in 1886.
Today the congregation is working to expand its social hall in order to have
space for children’s and community ministries.
The village’s third congregation is that of Pungoteague
Community Church. A non-denominational Christian church, PCC is well known
in the area for its mission work providing food, clothing, household goods
and even shelter to those in need.
Like most Eastern Shore towns, Pungoteague is a
stronghold of independent, hardworking folks with deep roots in the
In more recent years, however, the area has also become
home to many first-generation residents drawn by the slower lifestyle and
bucolic setting. Among those are a number of artisans, such as Maurice
A native of Bucks County, Pa., Spector has converted an
old dairy barn on the banks of Pungoteague Creek into his studio. There he
creates sculptures from stone and wood. Spector also does drawings in pen
and ink, Conté crayon and gouache in the studio, where visitors are welcome
to call and arrange a visit.
Local Artisan Ken
Platt at work in his Pungoteague studio,
where he demonstrates the art of hot glass
Another artist relatively new to the area is Ken Platt.
Platt, a transplant from northern New Jersey, now lives in the center of
town in the Victorian home he and his wife have lovingly restored. Retired
from his career as a scientific glass blower, Platt has transformed one of
the home’s outbuildings into the studio for Highpoint Glassworks. Here, he
utilizes several methods in crafting both decorative and functional glass
pieces. Those methods include lamp work, fusing and slumping, glass blowing
and even lathe work.
Platt is always happy to entertain visitors in his
studio, but especially so during the Shore’s annual studio and vineyard
tour. Held each Thanksgiving weekend, the self-drive tour is sponsored by
the Artisans Guild of the Eastern Shore. The tour takes participants to
studios in several locations where unique pieces by award-winning artisans
are waiting to be discovered. Adding to the experience are opportunities to
visit local vineyards for tastings.
Local Hot Spot
Also on the tour is perhaps the most popular spot in
Pungoteague, The Bear and Cub Coffee Shoppe. Taking its name from the
historic theater production, The Bear and Cub offers locally roasted coffee
with enchanting names such as the Hog Island Blend, Oyster Roast, Machipongo
Morning and Mockhorn Bay Birder’s Blend. Along with the coffees and other
specialty drinks, patrons can enjoy fresh baked scones and muffins while
browsing an array of local artwork or catching up with the rest of the world
with free Wi-Fi.
Among the gifts available at The Bear and Cub is a unique
collection of knitted items made from hand-woven and spun yarn. Stop by on a
Thursday morning when the local knitting club meets at the shop, and you
just might see some of those works in progress.
Billy Huffman waits on
Charlie Giddens at the Village General
Just down the road a piece, one finds The Village General
Store. Here, Billy and Evelyn Huffman offer everything from salt pork to
fresh-made sandwiches. Whatever produce is in season will be found here, as
well as good conversation about whatever comes to mind. A table in the
middle of the store is where customers go to make copies of recipes, to
pick-up information on a variety of topics or to drop a prayer request in
the prayer box.
No one leaves the store without warm smiles and kind
words from Billy and Evelyn.
On the Shore’s Bayside
Visitors to the Eastern Shore access the area by U.S.
Route 13, which bisects the peninsula from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel
to the Maryland state line. Locals refer to any area of the Shore east of
Route 13 as the seaside, while the land on the western side of the highway
is the bayside. Thus, Pungoteague is a bayside community; and indeed, the
waters of the Chesapeake lap ashore a mere three miles from the heart of
Turn off the main road in Pungoteague, and one is just
minutes away from the public boat landing at Harborton. Here, Chesapeake Bay
watermen ply their trade, bringing in their bounty of fish, blue crabs and
other succulent seafood. Recreational boaters also use the modern marina,
located where steamships once docked to load and unload barrels of supplies,
mail bags and passengers. Sailboats sway at their moorings just blocks from
Harborton House, a delightful Victorian B&B. There, guests choose to be
served in the formal dining room, in the garden, on the porch or in their
For the ultimate romantic getaway, couples may choose the
Pretty Byrd Cottage on Evergreen Farm in Pungoteague. Here, visitors really
get away from it all as they cross a footbridge to an island cottage on a
small lake. A paddleboat, biking, hiking trails, bird watching and kayaking
are among the amenities.
Such activities are prominent
throughout the Shore, as are boating, beachcombing, antiquing and camping.
Also prominent are scores of villages such as
Pungoteague, each with its own hidden treasures, and all offering a generous
dose of down-home hospitality.