The Town of Onley was one of several Eastern Shore towns that sprang up along the railroad in the mid-1880’s. The village was originally known as Crossroads. While Wachapreague was a bustling seaside town, Onancock an important Chesapeake Bayside port, and Accomac the center of local government, the area then know simply as “Crossroads” had little to draw interest.
The opening of the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad (NYP&N) on Virginia’s Eastern Shore was the catalyst for the development of many of the towns in the region. Onley is a prime example. Once the rail line opened a ticket office and warehouse for freight at the location, a new era and a new name sprung forth for the tiny village. No longer was it just an intersection connecting Wachapreague, Onancock and Accomac but rather a destination in its own right. The town was then called Onley. It is possible that the name Onley is derived from “Only”, the nearby estate of former Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise.
It was then that folks came to Onley for a variety of reasons. Produce farmers came to the market to sell their bounty to produce dealers. Local waterman brought their bounty harvested from local waters to sell as well. The much sought after bounties were then loaded on freight cars and shipped via steam engines to big cities up north.
While the steam engines have long left the tracks and the Produce Exchange building now serves as a church, Onley still remains one of the primary centers of commerce on the Eastern Shore. Now boasting more than 80 retail businesses, the Town boasts the Eastern Shore’s only Walmart. Onley is also home to many other establishments that serve the Eastern Shore including the YMCA, the ESRH Community Health Center and Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital. One of the oldest established organizations in Town is the Accomack County Woman’s Club, founded in 1925 and still going strong.
While all this activity bodes well for the future of Onley, the Town has faced progression without the loss of its small town qualities. Only an estimated 500 people reside within the corporate limits where small town amenities abound.
Onley Recreation Association operates a pool and tennis complex and boasts an award winning swim team.
Churches play a large part in the Town as well. Onley United Methodist Church, Onley Baptist, St. Peter the Apostle’s Catholic Church, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints and several independent congregations all meet in the area.
The Society for Preservation of Onley’s Train Station (SPOTS) is working on preserving the station that is such a rich part of the Town’s history. Those plans also include using the station and surrounding property as a stage area for local festivals and gatherings.
A visit to Onley is in itself a pleasure with restaurants, hotels and plenty of shopping so whether you’re looking for that small town atmosphere or the big store experience, you’ll find it here in Onley.