SMITH ISLAND, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- Want to buy an island... and some goats?
Nestled in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay near Smith Island lies a unique real estate opportunity for anyone who wants to get away from it all. That is, as long as they don't mind absorbing about 30 goats into their investment portfolio.
“How many (other) islands are for sale in Chesapeake Bay?" asked Bob Bradshaw, whose family is trying to sell the island. "I don’t know of any.”
The 55-acre enclave is listed at $1.5 million, a bargain compared with their original asking price of $15 million a decade ago.
The property was once under contract to be sold for $14 million to a Texas buyer, but it unraveled when the national real estate market collapsed in 2008, Bradshaw said. Since then, he and his family have progressively lowered the price tag in search of what the market would bear.
Things may be starting to look up. The Bradshaws recently brought in a third real estate agency in a succession of representatives. A broker with Crisfield-based Tull and Price Real Estate said one potential buyer is interested.
Tillie Doyle attributes the renewed interest to a real estate sign she had put up on the edge of the marshy island. During the summer tourist season, cruise boats bound for the Smith Island community of Ewell regularly tack past neighboring Goat Island.
“I knew we needed to have a sign put up with all the boats coming in," Doyle said.
Bob Bradshaw is the fifth-generation owner of Bradshaw & Sons Funeral Home in Crisfield. The business started on Smith Island in 1885 after Aaron Bradshaw had to bury his own wife because the bay had frozen over, according to a company history on its website.
The family's history intertwined with Goat Island in 1956, when Aaron Bradshaw's grandson, Harvey, purchased the acreage as a personal hunting and fishing retreat from the state of Maryland. He planted pine trees and constructed a shanty or two but otherwise left the land as it was.
After the death of Harvey's son Robert Bradshaw Sr. in 2004, the island's ownership passed to his wife, Betty, and their three children.
How the goats ended up there is anyone's guess, Bradshaw said. He has never set foot on the island himself. He doesn't know where they came from, except that they appeared some time after his grandfather became the owner.
It should be noted that islands around the Eastern Shore of Maryland have been used for centuries as natural livestock pens. In the days before barbed wire, their watery barriers gave livestock owners a way to keep their herds from roaming far and wide.
When the first European settlers came to Smith Island, its primary uses were for farming and pastureland, historians say. On the opposite side of the mainland, Assateague Island transformed into a storehouse for horses, which evolved into the iconic "Chincoteague pony" herd of modern times.
There is a separate "Goat Island" in the Pocomoke River near Snow Hill where goats still survive.
The formal name of the Goat Island near Smith Island is Bradshaw's First Purchase, but almost no one calls it that, Bob Bradshaw conceded.
”Everyone calls it Goat Island because there’s goats there," he said.
Goats have been part of the island's landscape likely for hundreds of years but not continuously, said Duke Marshall, a Smith Island native.
The original herd was wiped out in a particularly bitter winter more than two decades ago. A retired couple living on Smith Island at the time bought new goats and released them onto the island, said Marshall, who owns Drum Point Market on Tylerton.
No one tends to the herd, but it's not unusual for islanders to drop off a bag of feed now and then during the dregs of winter, he said.
Marshall's theory on why the land has been on the market so long: “It’s really just a blank piece of land. You’ve really got to have a vision to make it work."
A bucolic hideaway awaits whoever finally snaps up the property, Bradshaw said. The property is only accessible by boat, yet it boasts a key modern comfort: electricity. His grandfather convinced the electric company at some point to run a line beneath Levering Creek to power his shanty.
Zoning laws would allow up to two structures to be built, he added.
Bradshaw dismisses any concerns about the possibility of the land winding up underwater due to sea level rise or erosion anytime soon. Hundreds of islands in the bay have vanished since the 1600s, including several dozen that were once inhabited by humans, scientists say.
The land on Goat Island has a higher elevation than Smith Island, Bradshaw said. Since his grandfather's purchase, not a foot of land has disappeared.
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