So Terribly Helpless
It started on a September Sunday in 1920. Fanned by a northwest wind, a fire in an ice cream parlor spread quickly to nearby wooden buildings. Volunteer fire fighters rushed to the scene, but their engine failed.
Before the flames died out, every building on the east side of Main Street between Church and Mumford Streets burned, including the landmark Atlantic Hotel and the boyhood home of local historian Bob Mears. "We felt so terribly helpless," Mears remembered.
Four years later, the west side of Main Street suffered a similar fire.
These two fires changes Chincoteague. Main Street became straighter. Commercial buildings of brick and stone replaced homes and businesses built from wood. And the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, in order to fight fires more effectively, began raising money by sponsoring its now famous carnival at pony penning time.
A 1920 fire gutted the newly built and not-yet-opened Marine Banks.
Rebuilt, the bank finally welcomed customers by the end of the year. Amidst a winter snowfall in 1924, intense heat from a second fire on the opposite side
Every building on the left side of this picture of Main Street became straighter and more commercial, with fewer wooden buildings.
Immediately following the 1924 fire, the local fire company began to raise money by sponsoring a carnival at the same time as the annual pony swim and penning.
Ponies and parades brought increasingly larger crowds of spectators to the streets of Chincoteague, 15,000 in the first year of 1925, and better fire protection to the town.
Charles Purnell, owner of the Atlantic Hotel when it burned in 1920, never rebuilt. His $3,000 insurance policy fell far short of the $10,000 estimated value of the building. Two smaller hotels filled the void.
The 1924 fire destroyed thousands of dollars worth of clams and oysters, several boats, a barrel factory, dock, railroad office, and D.J. Whealton's "Big Store."
Whealton never rebuilt his store, but the railroad office and dock rose again, sustaining important commercial lifelines to the mainland.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Charity & Public Work • Disasters.
Location. 37° 56.053′ N, 75° 22.618′ W. Marker is in Chincoteague, Virginia, in Accomack County. Marker is at the intersection of Main Street
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. You Had to Keep On (here, next to this marker); Boats and Bridges (here, next to this marker); Chincoteague Island Library (a few steps from this marker); Misty of Chincoteague (a few steps from this marker); Telegraph here (within shouting distance of this marker); Chincoteague's Front Door (within shouting distance of this marker); Dollars from Decoys (within shouting distance of this marker); Fish So Fine (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Chincoteague.
Credits. This page was last revised on January 19, 2021. It was originally submitted on January 19, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 36 times since then. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on January 19, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.