Baltimore Sun

Iconic Bay landmark yields to rising waters

The poignant tale I reported over the weekend of the last house on Holland Island collapsing into a rising Chesapeake Bay has hit a nerve with some readers, it seems.

Michael F. Young, a friend of Rob Fitzgerald, the Virginia venture capitalist whose foundation recently acquired the island, flew over it this summer and took some aerial pictures - a couple of which you see here.  Young, of McLean, VA., thinks they are among the last images captured of this iconic structure before it collapsed.


You can see in them how water washes around and under the house at high tide, and how fragmented the island is now.  The image below is looking north to the house, with the broad expanse of green at the bottom the marshy southern portion of the island.

To see all of Young's photos, go here.

David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post provided another take today on the quixotic struggleto save the house by retired minister Stephen White. More haunting pictures, too.


And for those who want to see where the island and house are, you can do so via Google maps.  The orange rectangle to the northwest is the barge sunk offshore as a kind of breakwater.  Thanks for this suggestion from Wally Coberg at the Cinema Group in Baltimore.

Richard Scher with the Maryland Port Administration wrote that he wished I'd said a little about the restoration of Poplar Island, an exception to the litany of bay islands vanishing under relentless assault by waves and ice.  Poplar, farther up the bay, also had a colorful history, hosting a cat "fur farm" at one time and as many as 85 residents at one time.  By the 1990s, it was long abandoned and practically washed away altogether, with only a few acres left of the 1,500 that existed when English settlers first landed there in the 17th century.

But Poplar has been spared by a decision to place there the muck dredged from shipping channels approaching Baltimore harbor.  Today, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the island has been restored to its 1850s size and contour, and plans are to expand it another 500 or so acres.  Though the bay's fading maritime culture won't be restored to the island, it has become a haven for shorebirds and waterfowl, which also have been getting squeezed out by the sprawling development of the bay's eastern and western shores.

The port and Corps are looking to do similar restorations of a couple other vanishing islands, Barren and James.  But like Poplar, they're unlikely to stem the loss of bay fishing communities that began a century ago.  

Smith and Tangier islands, the two still-inhabited isles in the middle of the bay, also are under watery assault, and authorities are working on pricey plans to protect them for at least a while longer.

But the islands' culture may vanish before their physical abodes do.  As Pete Lesher of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum points out, both islands have been losing population, as young people leave for school and jobs elsewhere.  Fishing has been an increasingly hard way to make a living in recent years.

(Top two photos, aerial views of Holland Island summer 2010, courtesy Michael F. Young; bottom, Holland Island house in water, Oct. 21, 2010, Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston)