Assateague Abandon - a painterly picture of an abandoned house on stilts off the coast of Assateague Island

Assateague Abandon by Julia Springer

Unused since the turn of the 21st century, this abandoned dwelling stands on pilings in the northern waters of Tom’s Cove, Assateague Island.  Apparently long forgotten by man, the structure has since been reclaimed by the local wildlife, with a large osprey nest topping its roofline.  Greeting hikers as they emerge onto the shore at the end of the newly created Bivalve Hiking Trail, this slowly deteriorating construction serves to remind visitors that this region of the barrier island, now seemingly undeveloped, was home to Assateague Village, which boasted a population of over 200 people as recently as 1922.

Situated northeast of the iconic lighthouse, Assateague Village had its own school, store, and churches.  Livestock grazing and commercial fisheries, particularly oyster beds, were the lifeblood of the community.  Around 1922, a Baltimore businessman, Dr. Samuel Fields, became owner of much of the land on the Virginia portion of the island and proceeded to fence the land to the east of the village.  Refused access to the shellfish beds in Tom’s Cove by Dr. Fields’ overseer, the villagers’ lifestyle became untenable.  One by one, the families moved west, jacking up their houses and floating them on barges across the channel, to start their new lives on Chincoteague.  Last to leave was Mr. Scott, owner of the village store.  The Fields family sold their holdings on the island to the US government for use as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1943.

Buffeted by the Atlantic Ocean, and constantly shifting due the action of winds and tides, the waters off Assateague Island are notoriously treacherous.  Records indicate that at least 156 ships have been lost in this area, although the sites of many wrecks are uncertain.  One of the most famous occurred in a gale during the early hours of October 10th 1891, a couple of miles north of the modern-day Woodland Trail, when the presidential yacht, Despatch, ran aground some 75 yards from shore.  Thanks to the United States Life-Saving Service (predecessor of the US Coast Guard) there was no loss of life, but the 730 ton schooner-rigged steamship that had acted as the official yacht of Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Harrison was lost.

Rather sadly, the romantic association of the legendary “Chincoteague ponies” of Assateague with a shipwrecked Spanish galleon, propagated by Marguerite Henry’s wonderful children’s tale, “Misty of Chincoteague,” is likely to be just that – a romantic tale with no basis in fact.  Historians today believe that the ponies are descended from livestock grazed on the island to avoid fencing regulations and taxation in the 17th century.  However the annual pony swim from Assateague to Chincoteague is factual, and continues to this day as a means of controlling the size of the pony population on the island, and as a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.

“Saltwater cowboys” round up the two herds on the island in July and drive the ponies across the channel at slack tide – when there is no current running – to Chincoteague Carnival grounds for the “pony penning”.  The first foal to set hoof on Chincoteague is named either King or Queen Neptune and will be given away at a raffle drawing later that day.  All the other foals will be auctioned the following morning.  Typically there are between 60 and 75 foals for sale.  Of these, approximately 3 to 5 will be designated as “buy back” animals by the Fire Company.  Buy backs are auctioned with the rest of the ponies, and often command the highest prices [the record goes to Prince, a palomino pinto born in 2007 who is currently in the southern herd and who sold for $17,500!], but will be returned to the island with the herd to live out their lives and replenish the herds.  The winner of such a pony gets to choose the registered name for their pony before it returns, swimming back across the channel the day after the auction.  This whole process takes a full week and is a highlight of the tourist industry on Chincoteague.

Technical stuff – for those interested!

Original photograph taken with a Panasonic Lumix camera:  Aperture – f/5.5; Exposure – 1/250 s; ISO – 100

Opening the image in Photoshop, I immediately took it into my trusty suite of Topaz filters.  Contrast was enhanced by eye in the new Topaz Clarity, and a Buz Sim effect was applied in Topaz Simplify 4 to give a more painterly effect.

A copy of the resulting image was taken into Topaz BW Effects 2 where a Prussian Dynamic preset was applied; this was then blended with its parent image using the Luminosity mode at reduced opacity.

Two hi-resolution texture layers from Joel Olives were then applied: first I added “Gainful” using Multiply blend mode at a lower level of opacity to give some texture in the sky and a slightly aged look, then “Texture 16” from the May 2013 collection in the Soft Light blend mode which I adjusted to restore a more realistic lighting level to the focal point of my image.

As I wanted to emphasize the “abandonment” in this image, I decided that it would benefit from a few imperfections on the surface, so I turned to my Kim Klassen texture collection and found kk_1402magic, which I added as a mid-level opacity Screen blend.

Finally I added a new layer with my signature in the lower right corner.  Looking at the image again, it struck me that, for the “aging” effect of my screen to have full impact, the signature needed to be on the “original” image.  So I dragged my signature layer below my kk texture layer et voilà!