BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —
Visitors to Chincoteague Island should soon be able to tour the Beebe ranch made famous by Marguerite Henry’s 1947 novel “Misty of Chincoteague.”
The Museum of Chincoteague Island on Friday, June 30, purchased the ranch after more than 5,000 individuals donated the $625,000 needed to save the historic property.
“It was a dream come true,” said Cindy Faith, executive director of the museum, of the grassroots effort to save the ranch on Ridge Road.
“I just am so grateful and it gives me goosebumps to think of how this has come together,” she said. “I’m still completely blown away by the response.”
The Beebe Ranch became well-known through Henry’s novel, but Clarence and Ida Beebe — known to most as Grandpa and Grandma Beebe — were prominent figures on Chincoteague before Henry ever visited the property.
The family owned more than 100 acres of pastureland on the island’s southside, where Grandpa Beebe raised and sold his Chincoteague Ponies. The property dates back more than 100 years, Faith said.
“The Beebe Ranch and Clarence Beebe are just iconic parts of the island life,” she said.
Beebe’s reputation led Henry to his ranch in 1946, when she visited Chincoteague to collect stories for a book about the island’s annual pony auction.
Henry published “Misty of Chincoteague” the next year, inspired by its namesake pony born on the Beebe ranch.
“It becomes this iconic book, but over time, things change,” Faith said of the ranch. “Grandma and Grandpa Beebe pass away. They have a bunch of children … and that land is divided up.”
As the Beebe descendants moved off the island and sold their portions of the property, the family ranch dwindled in size. Today, the ranch is just 10.3 acres — but that small parcel played a crucial role in the legend of Misty.
“The last 10 acres are key components to the Misty stories” Faith said, recalling the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 that caused residents to evacuate the island.
“Misty rides out the storm in the kitchen of the house. That house is the house that has been preserved now,” she said of the Beebe family home.
Plans for the future of the ranch include maintaining the property and its existing structures, as well as rebuilding the barn that burned down in 2019, Faith said.
Plans are still in the works but the museum intends to open the ranch as a visitors center in the spring for guests learn more about Misty and the Beebe family’s history on Chincoteague.
In the meantime, the property continues to be a quiet, active farm with three ponies and a Quarter Horse, which Billy Beebe cares for every day.
“Now that we own it, we can apply for grants and see if it’s possible to make it a historical site. So, there’s a lot of planning going on,” Faith said. “We have to protect the property now.”
The fundraiser to save the Beebe ranch began conceptually last fall, when siblings Billy Beebe and Barbara Gray approached museum staff to let them know their plans to sell family property.
“They said, ‘We don’t want it to be developed. We don’t want to sell it to somebody who’s going to tear down the house and build a McMansion,” Faith said.
As word spread, the family received an offer from a private developer to purchase the property for $625,000, she said.
“That’s where the fundraiser came in,” Faith said.
The museum announced its fundraiser to purchase the ranch in February and received a “whirlwind” of support from donors across the country and abroad, she said.
A GoFundMe page received over 2,200 donations, 2,000 donated to the cause through the museum website, and hundreds more mailed letters with checks to the museum, she said.
Local philanthropist David Landsberger gave $100,000 as part of a matching fundraiser challenge and the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company donated proceeds raised from a buy-back foal to help save the ranch.
“All the other donations were everything from kids coming in with $2 to people sending in checks for $1,000 or $5,000,” Faith said.
Many donations came with a letter sharing individuals’ connection to the ranch and story of Misty.
“The letters that we’ve received for this donation are a testament to how many people care about Eastern Shore living … and the story of the kids and the love of a pony,” Faith said.
Last Friday, she signed the paperwork for the museum to officially purchase the ranch with the Billy Beebe and Gray.
“Billy Beebe and his sister Barbara … just before the signing were sitting down reminiscing. One of the things they said was their mother was in heaven watching down and must just be happy,” Faith said.
“This was something that she always hoped for – that their property would be … saved for the people.”
“They were both just very happy,” Faith said. “And that’s the best part of the story.”
The Museum of Chincoteague Island is creating a Beebe Ranch committee to help develop plans for the property. Those interested in serving on the committee can send a letter or email to the museum stating their interest within the next month, Faith said.
Reach out to the museum at [email protected] or by mailing Museum of Chincoteague Island, P.O. Box 352, Chincoteague Island, VA 23336.
Call the museum at 757-336-6117 for more information.