Saving a Piece of Virginia History

by Robin Beres

Chincoteague Island would probably be just another quiet little town on a quiet little barrier island overlooked by beachgoers and tourists if weren’t for a 1946 visit from children’s author Marguerite Henry. The writer arrived intending to pen a book about the wild ponies on nearby Assateague Island and the annual Chincoteague pony penning and auction.

During her stay, Henry met a rancher by the name of Clarence Beebe who invited her to visit his ranch. There she met his grandchildren, Maureen and Paul Beebe. She also met a young filly named Misty who stole her heart. The pony was the daughter of Phantom, one of Assateague’s wild ponies that the Beebe children had worked hard to purchase during a previous auction.

When Henry learned the story of Phantom and Misty, she wrote the book, Misty of Chincoteague. It instantly became a best seller and was recognized by the American Library Association as Newbery Honor Book. In 1961, the book was made into a movie, Misty.

The book and the movie also made Chincoteague’s annual pony swim and auction nationally famous. This July will mark the 98th annual Chincoteague Pony Swim. Tens of thousands of people from across the world are expected to attend this year’s event.

Most of the children who come to the pony penning are familiar with the story of Misty and her mother. They know the Beebe Ranch is where the story began. In March 2023, Billy King Beebe, a current co-owner of the ranch, told WBOC News that “Children from all over the United States read the ‘Misty’ books and their parents bring them here. I show them the Misty descendants and they really enjoy it.”

But time and old age have impacted the Beebe family. In May 2019, Maureen Beebe passed away. (Her brother Paul was killed in a car accident in 1957.) Over the years, the family has been forced to sell much of the land.

Now, after 100 years, the Beebe family says it must sell the remaining 10.3 acres. Family members are aging and unable to care for it. Investors are anxious to move in and develop the land. In an attempt to keep the property intact, the Beebes reached out to the Museum of Chincoteague in hopes the organization could acquire the ranch. The museum needs $625,000 to acquire the property.
Of course, no small town museum has those kinds of funds on hand. Museum organizers are asking for tax-deductible donations to help “Save the Beebe Ranch.” A press release from the museum reads in part:

The mission of the Museum of Chincoteague Island is to preserve, collect and protect the history of Chincoteague and Assateague Island. It is with this mission in mind that we would like to ask the public to join us to save the Beebe Ranch. If we can raise the funds in what can only be called a colossal, grassroots effort, we can preserve the ranch for future generations, keep a treasured part of Chincoteague intact and support the mission of the museum to protect our history, making the Beebe Ranch an officially an extension of the museum. Since we have been given one month to generate the funds, please understand that this can’t be done without you!

We are asking you to consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Museum of Chincoteague Island.

Our goal is $625,000. The family has already been given an offer by a developer for that amount. If we are not successful in raising our goal, the donor will be able to decide if they would like their donation returned.

If you are interested in sending a check, the Museum of Chincoteague Island’s mailing address is
PO Box 352
Chincoteague, Va 23336
Donations can also be made through our website or Go-fund-Me:

In a news story today, Channel 8 news announced that the museum has raised $475,000. There is a contract, but the organizers must come up with the remaining balance by June 30. Hopefully, the foundation will be able to raise the remaining money. What a shame it would be if such a iconic piece of Virginia’s history disappeared forever.