In early 1973, Donald and Martha Leonard installed the finishing touches in their grandest and most recent business venture – the state-of-the-art Refuge Motor Inn, nestled between loblolly pines just across the Assateague Channel from the Wildlife Refuge. This 40-room place of rest and refuge was founded on Martha’s southern hospitality that she cultivated in her hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Roll Tide!) and Don’s love of the Chincoteague Ponies that he had cared for since childhood — setting aside this small slice of Chincoteague not only for travellers seeking a home away from home, but also a pasture for his beloved ponies to meet guests from far and wide.
Over the years, as Don and Martha’s children and grandchildren grew, so did the family of staff and guests at their small Inn. As this extended family grew, so did the Inn, eventually growing to the 70 rooms and 2 unique suites that our guests enjoy today. As Don and Martha handed the reins of the Inn and the herd of Chincoteague ponies to their children and grandchildren, generations of visitors to Chincoteague’s one-of-a-kind charm have returned as well.
Today, the Refuge Inn’s second and third generation management and staff, many of whom have worked at the Inn for decades, continue to share in the passion and dreams of Don and Martha as we work to make the Refuge Inn a special place for our guests. More than just coworkers, we consider our staff to be a part of the Refuge Inn extended family (complete with annual staff trips to take our own vacations, after helping all our guests make the best of their trips.) Over the years, generations of guests and staff contribute to and enjoy the life-long charm that living, working and staying at the Refuge Inn brings.
We invite you to become a part of the Refuge Inn extended family, and enjoy the legacy that Don & Martha created at our island haven.
We hope you’ll arrive as guests, leave as friends, and return as family.
More Of Our History
Don and Martha Leonard, along with their four children pictured here, opened the Refuge Motor Inn in 1973. This is the original brochure that was distributed before the hotel was finished enough to be photographed– you can still see where Martha’s written the nightly rates on it.
Don told Martha they’d live at the motel for two years and then hire someone to run it. Well, two years turned into seventeen– but in 1990, their son Arthur moved in, and they retired on Don’s beloved pony farm at the picturesque north end of the Island.
Donna, Arthur, and Jane took over the motel in 1990. Donna and Jane were instrumental in the downtown revitalization project, and Arthur was on the town council and was sworn into his second term as mayor in 2020.
Michael, Carla, Sandy, and Roden are pictured here at the front desk around 1980. They’re the oldest of the third generation of Leonards and spent many summer days at the inn with their beloved “Nana” Martha.
While the key tags have been retired since the early 2000’s, we still use real metal keys. No magnetic cards here, folks.
Here’s the original postcard from the early 1970’s before the hotel was expanded. Don and the architect and builder actually marked the trees that needed to be cut down to make room for the structure, and left the rest. Those baby pine trees are now giants.
In 2019, the ”two decade” club went out to dinner to celebrate 20+ years of friendship and dedication. Back row, l-r: Audrey, Mae, Cathy, Bonnie, Denise. Front row, l-r: Carolyn, Cissie, Dawn, Cynthia, Jane.
We celebrated Carol Sue’s retirement at the Village Restaurant. She was such a blessing to us in the decades she was part of the family. She greeted thousands of guests with her distinctive laugh and wonderful smile.
The family and staff celebrating the Refuge’s 40th birthday in 2013. The potluck lunch with ice cream cake from the Island Creamery was a great time. We’re looking forward to celebrating 50 years soon!
Michael Leonard, who shares his time between the Refuge and the Bike Depot next door, is continuing the family legacy of involving the next generation. His two girls and two boys are learning the family business and will hopefully carry on the legacy with their cousins.
Sharon, John, and Rebekah dressed to suit the occasion for pony penning check-in day.
We try to do something for the whole staff every year. One year we took a sunset boat tour together! It was lovely and great to get together as a group.
Hunter Leonard, third gen Refuge Inn employee, local tour boat captain and Saltwater Cowboy, treats his nephew Arthur to a ride around the parking lot after a roundup on Assateague.
“It was a pleasure to see you again and stay at the Refuge Inn, the most charming hotel in Chincoteague.”
“I have stayed at The Refuge Inn several times and it never disappoints.
The Rooms are clean and very comfortable with plenty of linens.
The staff is very friendly and professional.
Location is great! Very close to Assateague (almost walking distance) with lots of restaurants nearby.
I definitely will be staying there again.”