Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 am - 4:00 pm (closed holiday weekends)
Member of Trail Networks:
Virginia Oyster Trail
Professional Distinction: Demonstrations, Exhibition, Instruction
It is gathering place, graced by weathered porch rockers that welcome you into an art gallery and gift shop rivaling New York’s finest.
It is a creative educator, grounding small-town children in history and the arts while big-city kids savor a taste of country life.
It is a museum that shelters yesterday’s culture of the islanders and watermen, and it is a farm that follows today’s best practices to cultivate the land.
Yet it is, most of all, a storyteller, safeguarding the wisdom of our past for the sake of the Eastern Shore’s future.
Education here feels a lot like fun
Standing just off Route 13, Barrier Islands Center wears many hats well. Here, history is in its heyday, from century-old photos and artifacts donated by Hog Island natives, to story-filled tours conducted by an island family descendant, to the mysterious twisted chimney of our own building.
But what was founded in 1996 as a place to preserve the heritage of Virginia’s 23 remote Barrier Islands has evolved into a wide-reaching initiative. Not only has Barrier Islands Center re-anchored the community to a fundamental legacy, it now connects residents up and down the Shore in a variety of meaningful ways.
With the Shore’s natural beauty offering fertile ground for the imagination, it’s no surprise that educational programs abound at the BIC. Each year we serve a growing number of students.
Teachers from local schools now rely on our exhibits and programs to move history out of the books and into the lives of their pupils. Our ever-changing summer camps fill up as fast as they hit the schedule, and Shore artisans hold workshops here that pass along authentic techniques to beginners of all ages, as they fashion their own heirlooms-to-be.
A center for education is just one way we’ve become a vital community resource.
Our roots in the community run deep
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Barrier Islands Center is housed at the Historic Almshouse Farm and comprises three noteworthy buildings. The oldest, known as the Quarter Kitchen, dates all the way back to 1725. Two almshouses, one from the 1890s and the other built in 1910, showcase architecture and construction techniques from those eras.
Yet it’s the lives of the former Barrier Islands residents and their descendants that give these buildings their soul. When those families were forced to uproot themselves from the only life they knew and move to the mainland, sadly, they weren’t exactly welcomed warmly into the community. So having a place today that’s dedicated to not only preserving but celebrating their legacy – well, you can imagine the pride they now feel.
Then there’s the farm. Though we’re quickly accessible off the Shore’s main highway, you wouldn’t know it by the view from our front porch. Eighteen acres of farmland surround the BIC; we lease it to a respected local farmer who grows wheat and soybeans using no-till farming practices to protect the land.
We’d like to think that virtually everyone who lives on the Shore has attended one of our events. There’s the annual Oyster Roast, Art and Music on the Farm, camps and classes for children, art exhibits, wine-tastings, decoy-making classes, lectures on the Shore’s food history – there’s no end to the diversity of activities hosted by Barrier Islands Center. We’re nothing if not flexible, something we’ve no doubt learned from the people whose lives we showcase here.
With the hurricane of 1933, Mother Nature sealed the fate of those Barrier Island families. But in accepting the need to leave the islands behind for safety of the mainland, many of those hardy folk didn’t just pack up suitcases. They picked up entire houses, put them on barges, and floated them into their new lives.
Little did they know what a gift their wherewithal and indomitable spirit would be to the 21st century.