The Last House on Holland Island

Built in 1888, this Victorian home from a different era has braved the elements and fought shoreline erosion on Holland Island in Chesapeake Bay for well over a century.

Despite former resident and owner Stephen White’s best efforts to save the house and protect the island, the waters would overcome both and erase them from the map.

So what happened to Holland Island, and why did one man try to save it?

Early days of Holland Island

Early History settled in the 1600’s, Holland Island was named for the first owner of the property, colonist Daniel Holland. For nearly two hundred years life would be largely uneventful for the small island, with little more than a small colony settlement occupying her shores.

In the 1850s a small fishing and farming boom in the Chesapeake area brought many to the island. By 1890 there would be a large watermen community, and by 1910 the island would house nearly 360 residents, making Holland the most populated island in Chesapeake Bay.

At its peak, Holland Island was a thriving community. It had nearly 70 structures including homes and shops, a school, post office, several general stores, and a church. The island also had its own doctor, a community center, and even a baseball team that would travel by boat for away games.

Nearly 90 vessels would call Holland Island home, chasing their fortunes in catching fish, trapping crab, and dredging for oysters.

Holland Island on October 18, 1953


Explore on Google Maps!

Geography & Erosion unique feature to the islands in Chesapeake Bay is the composition of mud and silt rather than rock; this makes Holland Island more susceptible to shoreline erosion from exposure to crashing waves.

The lack of a rock foundation has seen the land slowly disappear for thousands of years, the result of post-glacial rebound from the Earth’s crust being pushed up and down from movement of ice-age glaciers long ago.

This combined with the melting polar cap has seen the Earth’s oceans rise, further accelerating the erosion process for the islands of Chesapeake Bay.

Holland Island started to noticeably lose shoreline in 1914. The residents tried desperately to save their island by importing stones to build walls and in some cases sinking boats in an attempt to slow the erosion, but all attempts failed.

This would force most residents of Holland to tear down their homes and relocate to the mainland. Some would stay and take their chances, but a tropical storm in 1918 was the final straw for the last family who would leave when the church was damaged from the rain and high winds.

A few stragglers would stay behind to reap what they could from the fishing seasons, but this ended when the church finally closed in 1922.

Google map view versus satellite view demonstrates erosion


Holland Island Preservation Island would sit abandoned and neglected until 1995 when Stephen White (right), a Methodist minister and former waterman who grew up on the island, would purchase it for $70,000 and try to preserve its legacy by creating the Holland Island Preservation Foundation.

For 15 years Mr. White spent time and money attempting to stave off the water, but he had little success.

Stephen built breakwaters out of wood, but the waves devoured them. He and his wife feverishly laid sandbags only to watch them split open in the hot summer sun and dissolve in the high tides. They carried 23 tons of rocks to the island and dropped them at the shoreline, to no avail.

They brought an excavating machine and a small bulldozer to dig makeshift levees and replace shoreline, but the silt would not stand up to the waves. As a last resort Stephen even sunk a barge just off the house to break the waves, but the water could not be stopped.

White estimated he spent nearly $150,000 in his efforts to save the island, and he figured the island shrank by about 20 acres during his fifteen years of ownership.

Top: satellite view of the old house before collapse. Orange rectangle NW of house is sunken barge meant to act as a breaker. Bottom: the only remaining trace of man on the main island.*

Shrinking Island
courtesy Jay Fleming

Government officials take the situation seriously but many factors conspire against them saving Holland Island. Most recently, the economic crisis of 2008 put any plans on a several-year hiatus.

Compounding the issue is the majority of the land around Chesapeake Bay is privately-owned – including Holland Island – and thus unlikely to receive public funds for projects.

In 1999 the Maryland governor did appoint a task force to study the erosion issues effecting Chesapeake Bay. In 2000 the task force released the report which revealed much about the environmental conditions effecting the bay, including the following:

The State of Maryland loses approximately 260 acres of tidal shoreline due to erosion each year, resulting in a loss of public and private property, historic and cultural sites, recreational beaches, productive farmland and forested areas.”
Above: Slowly getting worse. Holland Island in 2003 has attacked Holland Island quickly in the last century. In the 90-year period from 1915 to 2005, the island saw its size cut in half from 160 acres to 80. What was once a 5-mile long island has been reduced to a swampy marsh that sits underwater at high tide.

The only residents of the island today are birds, including brown pelicans, herons, and terns. a 1995 survey would count over 600 nesting pairs of heron in Holland’s trees.

However in September of 2003 Hurricane Isabel would hit Holland Island destroying 60% of the remaining trees and decimating the avian population.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)


Final Days mid-2010 Stephen White fell ill with hemolytic anemia. In declining health and realizing he had done all he could, Mr. White acknowledged the fight was too great and sold Holland Island to local venture capitalist group Concorde Foundation.

The foundation commissioned a photographer to take aerial pictures during a survey of the island in the fall of 2010. It would turn out to be the last known pictures taken of the house before it would collapse.

(Click Thumbnails to enlarge)“Final Days” aerial pictures courtesy of Michael F. Young


Collapse mid-October of 2010, the house would finally succumb to the elements and fall into a one-story heap.

After 125 years of braving the elements, the Victorian home could stand no more.

Over the next several months the water would re-claim the wreckage; a year later Holland Island was gone.

By 2012 the island had completely eroded. As of the date of this post, Google Maps is still using pre-2011 satellite images allowing us to examine what was left of the house and Holland Island before they disappeared.

Top to bottom: on it’s last legs, the house – now missing walls from water damage – finally collapses

Holland Island today

photo courtesy Jay Fleming Photography



  1. One of the few blogs that I always check as soon as I see a new article has been posted. Thanks for the great story!

  2. I don’t know of any other website more interesting than this one! Really first class stuff!

  3. I agree with all of the above! I get so much email, it’s not even funny anymore and I only look at the ones that I absolutely don’t want to miss. Sometimes (Always!) Interesting is one the few emails I open every time.

  4. Thanks so much for this amazing history lesson, I will share it with my kids!
    Such beauty lost, thank goodness it’s documented otherwise it would be as if it never existed. Thanks again.

  5. Fantastic as always. I don’t know how you get all your research info from where you are. I have tried to find the same depth of info you have found to no avail! Check my email I sent you on Ft. Carroll and Poplar Island!

  6. Thank you! We were just talking about Holland Island as the house appeared on a list of the most beautiful abandoned places I received via email. Upon doing some further research, I was delighted to find such a wealth of information and photos to share.

    • Me too ! Why couldn’t they have dismantled the last Holland house piece by piece and reassemble it elsewhere ? Was the structure to rotted to this or too expensive a job ?

  7. amazing story; very well written and your research so thorough! I hope you’ll write a digitized book about this and other *interesting* topics 🙂

  8. Really sad … your way of storytelling was fantastic.
    Greetings from a Lebanese living in Saudi Arabia

  9. I have been perusing this site for much of the day. All of what I have seen and read is fascinating. Whoever is responsible is fantastic. You are a very precise writer. The topics are beyond description in their level of interest. I would never have thought that I could have felt emotions just by watching a house and an island be taken by erosion. Certainly not a house and island to which I had no connection until now. This page is a work of genius. Thank you. Have a great day and keep up the extraordinary effort.

    • Interesting place to have ancestors from! Were you ever able to visit the island before it all just fell into the bay? Sadly there’s no town left so now you wouldn’t have anyone or place to visit. I absolutely loved that old house – how spooky was it! If you had a good imagination like Stephen King or Dean Koonz a ghost story could have been written about it-oooooooh🕸🕷👻😨 Just think of all that history in one town and now all the records may be gone. A hand to
      Minister White & his dear wife for all that time & money they spent to save it but at least they sold to a corporation !🤑☹😟 Someday I would like to visit all the different islands of Chesapeake Bay.

  10. As an amateur genealogist, I wonder if anyone documented the cemeteries before they were submerged?

  11. I heard about Holland Island only recently, while doing genealogy research. My grandmother was a Holland, and I have documents showing my Holland family on the Eastern Shore back to the 1600s. I hope to find out if Daniel Holland was a relative!

  12. I am impressed by the story, I truly learned something today, greeting from Tijuana, Mexico

  13. This is so interesting and so well written. I’m from the Eastern Shore and I know of other Chesapeake islands but not this one. I’m so glad I stumbled on to your site.

  14. I too have been following this story and was saddened when the last house gave up the fight. Feels like an old friend who won’t be back. Thanks for the memories!

  15. I’m watching a program on my Mpt channel. I pretty much grew up in the summers below St.Marys. We always camped at Point Lookout before the state park took over. Plenty of fish and crabs- not to mention beautiful beautiful sunrises and sunsets! I still go back to camp at the State Park. I have gotten involved moreso with lighthouses and have a strong interest in saving them. But I have to say that I have very much enjoyed your article on Holland Island! I am deeply saddened by the sinking of the island. Erosion had been an ongoing problem no matter how much is spent to stop it. I also have been to Smith Island, where the ending will probably be the same as Holland Island. From what I understand, we will always battle erosion and in alot of instances- the water will win. We do our best to delay, but it gives a very severe “kickback”. My heart sinks and I hope that more will be and can be done to proudly show off our waterways. Our country deserves that! I also hope that we continue to find the resourses to educate our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren on the splender of the Chesapeake!
    Thank you for your work and articles! Let me assure you that it is very much appreciated! Please keep it up! I have signed up for the newsletters and look forward to reading them!

    re can ben and will be done in them future. My generation has truely been blest with the fruits of the Chesapeake. I fear that in this world today, our kids and grandkids are pretty much shielded from alot of reality of

  16. You know, I’ll confess I’m a terrible reader. I don’t mean to read your pieces, but I find I can’t help myself. I’m supposed to be working honestly!

  17. What a great story and images! Hard to believe and view the destruction of the waters on that last standing Victorian style home.

  18. Thanks so much for the article. My mother was born and raised on this island. Her family moved their home to Cambridge, Many of the housed that were moved are still standing and in use.
    Thanks again for the history lesson

  19. Thank you for the article! The “last” house was my great-great grandfather W Grant Parks’ home. We visited the homestead several times before it succumbed to the Bay. Thanks again!

  20. My grandfather Irving Mace Parks told stories of life on the island. The article was very interesting.

  21. Check out Woodland Beach..along Delaware Bay in Delaware. Same thing happened there.. my grandparents jouse was swallowed up by the bay.

  22. Forgive me as I know this is an older story, but the island didn’t “sink”, nor did the water levels “rise” in the Bay that drastically. In a fairly local resident to the area(I live in Southern MD on the Western shore) so I do have local knowledge and insight. The island was lost due to erosion.

  23. My neighbor in Crisfield spent her summers in that house with her grandparents. It belonged to the Parks family. She told me numerous stories about her stay there. Wow, what a loss.

  24. If anyone read the “Chesapeake” by Michener, they would know that was about the same thing: The history of an island in the Chesapeake that disappeared due to erosion.

  25. I’m glad I don’t have any money with the Concorde Foundation. Why would any venture capitalists, or anyone for that matter, have paid money for the disappearing spit of land in 2010?

  26. Sorry, this had nothing to do with melting icecaps and rising sea levels. It was due to erosion. Interesting story.

  27. Merci pour cette belle histoire, je vous découvre aujourd’hui, je suis fan. Dommage qu’ils n’ai pas pu déplacer cette maison, dernière “résistante”….

  28. So are there any islands left in the bay that one could kayak to and camp out for a night? I know there is Hart-Miller island but I’m looking for something uninhabited and so far every island I find on Google maps or old articles has since eroded away. Fvery fustrating!

  29. This island is part of my family history.. My grandmother traced the family name of Holland back to the 12th Century and a man registered as John of Holland in immigration documents she found in England.. the first Holland that made it to “the New World” was ANOTHER John who was part of the Royal Survey Team that came to lay out the COLONY of Virginia.. He decided to stay and was granted a Family Charter for a 1/4 mile of shoreline “to extend as far inland as the land goes”.. The family’s fortunes waxed and waned for the next 150 years with the final original parcels being sold off between the end of the Civil War and the Great Depression…

  30. Thank you for the information, very cool pics but sad story for the old homestead.Looks like the birds had a great resting spot for quit a long time, until it disappeared.

  31. I went to Holland Island in August 2014 by boat to help band juvenile brown pelicans with the DNR & CBF. It is now a rookery for brown pelicans, cormorants and other birds (herons, gulls, terns & ospreys). The island is beautiful now in my opinion. I took a lot of nice pictures. I am working on a pictorial book called “The Magic Of Holland Island”, coming out in 2015. I am a photographer, author and bird lover. That trip was one I will never forget and hope to repeat. ~Stephanie Kendall

  32. I am tryig to determine if I am related to Daniel Holland. My paternal grandmother was a Holland from Dorchester County. I’m very glad to have found this sight not only for Holland Island, but for all of the other wonderful stories. Thank you for this.

    • Glad you liked the story Katie, thanks for stopping by. Good luck on your familial search! (Are you related to Brekken by any chance?)

  33. I know was written a couple years ago, but what a beautiful find! I must say I have never felt such emotion for a house or island I had never heard of! Your article brought life to an island, a community, gone to Mother Nature. It truly brought tears & a tug in my heart. Thank you!

    • Thanks so much for reading Luisa, I’m glad the article had a positive effect on you. Thanks for sharing it as well! 🙂

  34. Oh my, I really liked the story. I was hoping there was a book about the people who settled in early years etc. Do you know of one? I read the Smith Island one. You made my day. I am glad I saw the photo of Holland Island cemetery in the sun paper. MEA in Baltimore

    • “Holland Island: Lost Atlantis of the Chesapeake” by A. M. Foley describes the people and their way of life on the island from early days. It is well-illustrated and includes many stories from the islanders themselves.

  35. I live on the Eastern Shore of MD have done repair/remodeling work in some homes that came from Holland Island in the Crisfield, MD area. When the island began to erode some people who could manage it brought their houses over on barges and relocated on the mainland. Some of them have fantastic trim details and woodwork. In the early 1900’s the water was a gold mine! Interesting post. Thanks!

  36. Very interesting story, especially as I knew the Bounds family of Salisbury, who owned Holland Island for many years. The Bounds both died in the 1980s, but I remember them telling stories about their many trips out to see the house and spend time there. They often said that they saw signs that people had broken in to the house when stranded due to storms, etc.

  37. Heart-breaking. Especially as it is a metaphor — if that is the correct term
    — for what is happening to our global civilization, and what will continue to happen, if we do not rise to the challenge of quickly transitioning our sources of energy to those that are not based on fossil- fuels.

  38. I just finished reading Tom Horton’s, An Island Out of Time, about Smith Island and in it, he spoke about Holland Island, which lead me to want to learn more about it. Thank you.

  39. So the government spend $660,000,000 of OUR tax dollars in a vain attempt to save nearby Poplar Island. Why not spend a tiny fraction of that amount to purchase the houses of the residents and allow nature to have her way. She always wins in the end.

    • After sandy the government offered the people of Smith Island (the last of all the inhabited interior islands of the Chesapeake Bay) a 8 million dollar buyout in order to buy the homes and help all of the people move off the island. however the people who lived on the island refused to leave causing the money to be put to other uses. I agree that people should leave now but if people do not want to go, they can not be forced.

  40. I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog! I feel connected to this area( though I am not- only by way of Chincoteague, a place I love. She is having the same struggle with the sea. Thank-you for the work you do! Please continue-it is worthy.

    • Thank you very much Kaye, I’m happy to hear you enjoyed the story. It really is a struggle, and the results have been unfortunate. Cheers, and I’m glad to hear you will be reading more! 🙂

  41. Wow! I’ve never had a reader make my heart hurt for a simple building. Awesome story telling! Very sad story. Love it!

  42. I was under the impression that the restoration project at Poplar Island was successful. What data do you have data that shows otherwise? Thank you.

    • Sara, that was an erroneous report on our part. You are correct, fortunately the Poplar reinforcements have been very successful. I’ve updated the post to remove that incorrect information, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

      • Is that the only part left of Holland Island? I just stumbled onto this article & was fascinated by the story. In all of my years of going to Ocean City, MD I never knew about this. Neat story, although very sad. Is Mr. White still alive or has he passed on also?

        • No, there is more. The Island has 2 parts now, separated by water. One part is very small, just an open beach, where the house once stood and the backhoe and tractor can be seen at low tide. The bigger part is now a rookery for Brown Pelicans, Double Crested Cormorants, Seagulls and a few Herons and Egrets. The cemetery is located near the center, in the dense brush. The trees are filled with hundreds of Cormorant nests during the summer. Holland Island is now a bird lover’s paradise.

  43. Is the cemetery the only part of the island that is left? Very interesting story. Spent a lot of time in Ocean City & just read a story about how the inlet came about. Would love to read more about the history of this island & its former inhabitants.

  44. I am a descendant of one of the families from the island there were two cemeteries on the island one of those cemeteries is now under water the other cemetery is on the main part of the island that is left

  45. During the early part of the 1900s families move their homes to Cambridge or Crisfield Maryland several of the houses in Crisfield were dismantled on the island barged to Crisfield and then rebuilt in Crisfield one of those houses is on Standard Avenue and some other houses are on Maryland Avenue there are also houses in Cambridge Maryland that actually stood on the island

  46. You can find more information in the book entitled The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake Holland island is one of those discussed

  47. Ive seen pics of this place for years. Always wondered what the story was. Man I hit the jackpot when i clicked this link. Not only did I learn answers to the unspoken questions I had about this place, but, Ive also learned about so many other beautiful, mysterious places. I cant put it down. Keep this up and Ill never get anything done. Thanks man.

  48. I’m looking for an old house to revitalize on Deal Island, so I’ve become very interested in the Bay area and the island that once were and are slowly (or rapidly) being reclaimed by the ocean. Your article was completely fascinating and very sad actually, the love story between the man and the house, the testament of the builders of the solid homes of yesteryear (you know a home built by today’s methods/standards wouldn’t have withstood a DECADE under those conditions, let alone over a century!) and the photos really brought it all home. I’ve read the article 3 times already over the last few months because it’s just an incredible story of the island and it’s inhabitants, down to the very last lonely structure. *sigh* Great great read, thanks!!!

    • There is a book about the island called Holland Island the Lost Atlantis of the Chesapeake it gives a long history of the Island from Revolutionary War days through Civil War through it War of 1812 excetera

  49. Excellent article! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with everyone. I’m sad that I didn’t get to see this house or island.

  50. The disappearance of aquatic vegetation (mainly the freshwater and marine grasses, in my opinion) has caused a lot of this island/shoreline erosion.

  51. Do you have any information on residents? My grandmother was Lola Hubbard Parks. b. 10/1/1905 Thank you for this information.

  52. I have been fascinated with Holland Island for years. Does anyone know if Stephen Smith is still living? I was always so impressed with his relentless determination.

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