Barrier Islands Center


The Barrier Islands Center in Machipongo, Virginia is rich in history of the families who once called the barrier islands home. They had a unique way of life living off the land and water and depending on each other. No one lives on the barrier islands anymore. The islands are now owned and protected by The Nature Conservancy

The Barrier Island Center from outside. (7142125233)
Barrier Islands Center,  Machipongo, VA
Photo via vastateparksstaff [CC BY 2.0 (] 

"It is a gathering place that welcomes newcomers and travelers with the same warm embrace as the locals whose families planted their roots on the Eastern Shore centuries ago; a space where artists and entrepreneurs celebrate the bounty and beauty of this coastal region alongside watermen and farmers.
It is a creative educator, grounding rural and small-town children in history and the arts, while kids visiting from more urban areas can savor a taste of Eastern Shore country life.
It is a museum that preserves yesterday’s culture of the islanders through artful, immersive galleries that encourage you to linger and imagine or relax and be drawn into beautiful films depicting the struggles and triumphs of this rural lifestyle.

The Barrier Islands Center is, most of all, a storyteller, safeguarding the wisdom of our past for the sake of the Eastern Shore’s future."

-from the Barrier Islands Center website 

Barrier Islands Center Museum and Gallery Tour

Barrier Islands Center Museum Gallery Tour narrated by P.G. Ross. Directed and edited by Dallas and Cody Simms. Produced by Monika Bridgeforth and Sally Dickinson. 

If You Go...

BIC Drive and Crape Myrtles

Crape myrtles line the drive into the Barrier Islands Center.
Photo credit: William Dyas 

7295 Young St
Machipongo, VA, 23405

Tuesday - Saturday
10 AM - 4 PM

Facebook: @ Barrier Islands Center 




Admission is free. Donations are always welcome and very gratefully appreciated.

BIC is family-friendly place. Children are encouraged to visit, explore, build on our lego tables, dig in our "fossil pit" or play croquet on the lawn. Picnic tables and benches are located on the Quarter Kitchen patio, and visitors are welcome to bring your snacks or lunch. (Machipongo Trading Company is located directly across Route 13 in case you’d like to pick up a coffee, smoothie, salad or sandwich!)

Dogs (on leash) are also welcome to explore the museum grounds and the gallery spaces.

Visitors in wheelchairs or with otherwise restricted mobility are welcome to the Barrier Islands Center. Both the Museum Building and the Education Building have ramps available for wheelchair or walker access. Many of the museum exhibits are on the 2nd floor, which does not offer wheelchair access at this time. Visitors who are unable to ascend the stairs may view an Upstairs Gallery Tour video, one or more of the BIC's documentary films, sit and chat with us downstairs or browse the galleries through our iPad Virtual Tour.

-from the BIC website About the Museum 




Photo credit: William Dyas

Exhibits at the Barrier Islands Center are detailed vignettes of life on the barrier islands lived with simplicity and tenacity. 

Eastern Shore of Virginia native, Sarah Barban wrote about the exhibits at the Barrier Islands Center in her article,  "Almshouse museum preserves barrier island history while tying together the unique and thriving Eastern Shore culture."   which was published in Chesapeake Bay Magazine on April 5, 2018.

"The artifacts curated by those founders, and the items that island residents and their descendants have donated since, are displayed in scenes throughout the upstairs of the building. At one display, you can stand at the original front desk from the famous Cobb Island Hotel, circa 1890s, and you feel as though you’re standing in the lobby of a getaway that once billed itself as the “unrivaled health and summer resort of the Atlantic Coast,” offering “fishing, gunning and bathing unexcelled.”

Cobb Island Hotel exhibit
Photo credit: William Dyas

In another room, papier-mâché food on a picnic cloth tells the story of how the women of Hog Island defeated an out-of-town baseball team without lifting a bat. It was the annual Fourth of July game and the mainland visitors chowed down on Hog Island specialties like steamed clams, roasted mutton, clam fritters, fried fish, and all kinds of garden fresh vegetables—not to mention the pies and the cakes. The mainlanders stuffed themselves while the home team held back, allowing them to handily defeat the lethargic visitors." 

-From Cheasapeake Bay Magazine "Almshouse museum preserves barrier island history while tying together the unique and thriving Eastern Shore culture."
Article written by Sarah Barban, April 5, 2018. 



Five documentary films have been produced for the Barrier Islands Center by Academy Award-nominated Filmmaker James Spione;"Our Island Home," "Watermen," "Spirit of the Bird," "Welcome to the Table:" and "The Last Hunt Clubs." 
The films give visitors a good idea of what life was like on the islands through the re-telling of stories from the families who lived there. 

"Each of the films profiles extraordinary individuals and presents a beautifully textured documentary that gives voice to the people, lifestyles and traditions that make up the unique fabric of the Eastern Shore of Virginia."-Barrier Islands Center Documentary Films PDF

Films may be viewed in the mini theaters in the galleries, can be purchased at the Barrier Island Center Gift shop or through the online store.

Film clip from "Our Island Home" A documentary by James Spione

Our Island Home 

"In this DVD from Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker James Spione, three former denizens of the long-lost settlement of Broadwater recall their unique way of life on a remote barrier island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

A pristine shoreline wonderland that is completely unique on the east coast of the United States, the Barrier Islands region of Virginia is one of America's extraordinary geological and ecological gems. Uninhabited for many years and largely protected from development, these fourteen wild islands (and surrounding waterways and saltwater marsh) now offer a prime destination for birders, kayakers, sportsmen, and eco-tourists of every stripe. But to the hardy souls who once lived and worked there, the islands afforded a culture and history as unique as their physical environment. 'Our Island Home' offers three poignant and personal vignettes, each centering on one former resident's story, to bring the Barrier Islands' vibrant and colorful past fully to life.

Narrated exclusively in the voices of the people who once lived there, 'Our Island Home' features rare archival photographs of the islands' evocative landscapes and towns, and the sturdy American families who once populated them. An eye-opening first-hand account of a little-known chapter in coastal American history.

Available now from Morninglight Films, the special Expanded Edition DVD features over 30 minutes of additional footage about the history and ecology of this fascinating region of the United States. Find out more at" 

-from James Spione's Youtube page 

Children's Books  

BIC Children's Books
The Hog Island Sheep Tales: A Twisted Christmas Tale, Red, White and Ewe and State of the Ewe-Nation written by Andrew Barbour. Illustrations by Cameron Waff. 

The Barrier Islands Center is a welcoming place for children and families. Workshops and classes offer hands-on, interactive, fun. Music, art, crafts and play all combine to capture the story of a time past. What better way to learn the story of the islanders than through children's books? Education Director, Sally Dickinson teamed up with Eastern Shore based author,  Andrew Barbour and artist, Cameron Waff to turn barrier island history into delightful stories for children and parents. The Barrier Islands Center offers three books in the series The Hog Island Sheep Tales; A Twisted Christmas Tale, Red, White and Ewe and State of the Ewe-Nation.

The Hog Island Sheep Tales takes its name from the breed of sheep descended from livestock first brought by the colonists to Hog Island in the eighteenth century.  Due to lack of predators, the sheep were allowed to roam freely on the island. The waters surrounding their pasture made the perfect fence. In the 1930's a progression of violent storms forced the islanders to leave their homes. The sheep remained behind and eventually became feral.

"The last sheep were removed from Hog Island in 1974 when The Nature Conservancy purchased the island. Four years later, Virginia Coast Reserve agents found, to their surprise, a thriving flock of sheep on the island." 
     -From the Livestock Conservancy Heritage Breeds Hog Island Sheep

Organizations seek to preserve the Hog Island sheep because of it's important resemblance to historical, early American breeds. 

One unique feature of the Barrier Islands Center is a state of the art recording studio to record the oral history of the islanders and preserve family legacies for future generations.  


"Do you have an interesting first-hand story about life on the Barrier Islands? We'd love to hear it! Do you know someone who tales about those good ol’ days out on the islands? Ask them to share! Please contact the BIC, and consider allowing us to record an oral history. We want to make sure that generations of children and grandchildren can continue to learn about their past.
The oral history recording studio is also available to those who would like to preserve their personal story for family and friends. :"
-from BIC website

Video Courtesy The Virginian Pilot

A former Hog Island resident reflects on a lost way of life in her poem, "Our Island Home."
The once thriving community succumbed to the storms and rising tides. Now only memories remain. 

"The people of Broadwater knew their island was moving. But, until the 1930's, few chose to leave their homes in Hog Island's pine woods. The sea washed closer. After a sever storm flooded the town in 1933, many residents floated their homes to the mainland by barge. More storms struck, and finally the last islanders moved away. Today, watermen report seeing gravestones in the shallows off Hog Island. The forest is gone; Broadwater is gone. Where townspeople once picnicked in the shade of pines, dolphins now leap, channel bass run, and whelks inch along the sandy bottom."

From: America's Atlantic Isles by H. Robert Morrison and Christine Eckstrom Lee. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C. copyright 1981 with Map Art by Suzanne BURTON