An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

December 28, 2011

Frostbit' in Franklin City

One of my Christmas gifts this year was the book Lost Communities of Virginia by By Terri Fisher and Elizabeth Gilboy.  You might think from the title that the places mentioned in this book are ghost towns, but that term implies places empty of people. Rather, these are communities that have lost most of what they once were, and are just a few moving vans or obituaries away from really becoming ghost towns. I have only read a few of the entries in the book, but look forward to discovering the rest of the stories.

On Virginia's Eastern Shore there are several lost communities, any of which would have made a good entry for the book, but only Capeville got in. One place that didn't make the cut is Franklin City which is just this side of the Maryland line (not to be confused with the city of Franklin near the North Carolina line in Southampton Co).  This past November I made a trek to Franklin City to see what could seen, which wasn't much as far as a town goes.

Franklin City (11)

Franklin City (10)

In the days when the railroad was the most reliable way to get commodities from here to there, Franklin City hummed.  Train tracks were elevated above the marsh to the edge of Chincoteague Bay where the watermen of Chinoteague Island beyond, brought their oysters for shipment to hungry points north. Homes were built above the marsh, on either side of the tracks. A hotel, churches and stores followed, and the trade in oysters allowed the people of Franklin City to become quite wealthy by Eastern Shore standards. The oyster shells were discarded in such numbers that they helped bridge the gap between the marsh below and the houses above.

Franklin City (4)

Franklin City (3)

Events changed Franklin City. A causeway was built to Chincoteague Island in the 1920's allowing direct access to the oysters and other seafood, removing the need for any middlemen in Franklin City.  Soon too, trucks, not trains, began carrying the salt delicacies to market. The fate of Franklin City was sealed by the hurricane of 1933, which washed away the sea level community, never to recover.  Today there are just a few buildings still standing, with fewer still occupied, but the frostbitten marsh was beautiful in November, and the sky and sea are always there.

Franklin City (8)

Franklin City (6)

Franklin City (5)

Franklin City (2)

Stories like this fascinate me, and pondering societies that have too many eggs in one basket would be a good exercise for anyone contemplating the future.

(As is the norm here, any mention of any product, book or otherwise, is done so of my own volition unless otherwise stated.)


  1. Your posts like this one have me longing for the day I am able to visit your part of the country. Your photographs only add to the sense of urgency.

  2. Les, You do make visiting Virginia a must. It's beautiful and through your lens even more so...

  3. I see towns like this occasionally. It always makes me sad. I never thought about the "all eggs in one basket" part of it before.

  4. I'm privileged to have rambled the woods and waters of Virginia with you from time to time and they have been some of the best times of my life. Any time I'm walking next to you I wonder, while I'm looking, what you are seeing. Surely something more personal, something more magnified, more precious. It shows in your stunning photography.

  5. Whenever I read these posts and see your gorgeous professional (hint) photographs, I always want to know more. How many houses are still occupied? how many people live there? Are there children, a school? What do people do for work these days? Why is this beautiful spot not filled with seasonal homes (thank heavens it's not)? It reminds me of Cliff Island (I think you read that post). Are you going to MANTS? I think I may be able to attend this year.

  6. your landscape photography is alive. thanks for sharing your talent and gift.

  7. Loree,
    Come on down (or should it come on over?)

    Thank you for the kind comments.

    The egg comment seems really apt to many parts of America.

    I am blushing here, and I look forward to when you get back on your feet.

    There are about 6 stuctures there, two of them are govt. property and are in decline. There are about 4 houses, two are a year or two away from being derelict and the others looked lived in. One looks like a vacation home and is seriously elevated above the marsh. I can't speak to the presence of children, but I would guess not as residents. I do hope to go to MANTS and plan on working out the details next week.

    Thank you for taking the time to leave such nice comments.


  8. Let me know when you will be there and maybe we could meet for a few minutes.

  9. As a person who loves that area but am from Midlothina Va, I just recently bought a house there. Of course as a new home owner am researching everything I can find on Franklin City,and Greenbackville. And what a exciting surprise to see a photo of the house we just bought. Thanks for this site and keeping the history alive of this all but gone town. Would love to talk more.