Tourism has been the most recent lick of paint on this ancient locale – especially for water sport lunatics. But it goes back many thousands of moons. Together with Nieuwe-Tonge, it formed the old manor estate of Grijsoord. In a 1284 property deal, the Viscount of Zeeland, Albrecht van Voorne, purchased Grijsoord from Count Floris V. Its mudflats and reedy marshes were a summer sheep pasture and inhabited by shepherds, fisher folk and bird catchers. In the winter, salt was harvested by removing accumulations in the peat layer below the clay surface of a salt marsh (aka salting). This, and simpler scraping, was unsustainable – the custom (known in Dutch as ‘selneren’) faded away. After the area was diked in, nearby creeks silted up. The new polders soon welcomed crops and animals. The fertile clay soil was a great growth medium for cereals, flax, common madder (a dye plant), peas and beans.
Originally, the village was the Kerkring, with functionally named streets: Kaai (quay), Oostdijk (East Dike), Molendijk (Mill Dike) and Voorstraat (Main Street). Little more is known since the village archives were destroyed in 1647 in a fire that razed most of Oude-Tonge.
Catastrophe returned in 1953: the flood disaster hit Oude-Tonge the heaviest in Goeree-Overflakkee: 305 villagers lost their lives. They lie in a mass grave in a dike just outside the village.
Today, Oude-Tonge has morphed into a tourist destination. Its small harbour draws water sport fans from all over Goeree-Overflakkee. Many of the island’s cycle paths will lead you here.