A good history of Ocean City is available in a book entitled, City on the Sand: Ocean City, Maryland and the People Who Built It by Mary Corddry and illustrated by Ellen Corddry. This book is available for sale through the Ocean City Lifesaving Museum on the Boardwalk near the Inlet parking lot. You can call them at 410-289-4991. The information that follows is from this book.
In 1875, you could only get to Ocean City by boat. It was a windswept island with one hotel and lots of possibility. It extended from Toms Cove, Virginia to the south and the Indian River Inlet to the north. The Ocean City inlet that separates Ocean City, MD from Assateague Island wasn’t cut until the storm of 1933. The Native Americans that inhabited these lands were from the Algonquian tribe. The Assateagues were either a subtribe of the Naticokes or the Powhatans. They were pushed north into Delaware in the 1700s and dispersed further north and inland. They left behind more names for locations on the Eastern Shore than anywhere else in Maryland. Assateague means, “place across.”
The first European settler to set foot on the shores of Assateague was the Italian, Giovanni da Verrazano who sailded the coast in 1524 under the flag of France. The bridge from the mainland on 611 over to Assateague Island is named for him. It is a much different bridge than the one heading into New York of the same name. Here, you are crossing into one of the most spectacular parks with seemingly endless white sandy beaches, ample facilities, camping, and scattered with wild ponies, sika elk, eagles, osprey, shore birds of all varieties, and other abundant wildlife.
In the early 1700′s, Captain William Whittington obtained a patent from Lord Baltimore for 1000 acres of land. By 1771, Whittinton had patented nearly all the land from the Virginia line northward to the future site of Ocean City, Maryland. The land was poor for farming and offered little fresh water. It was used as open graze land for lifestock until the 1930s.
The life saving station in Green Run was established in 1875 and the activity there accounted for most of the 10 families that lived here. A little earlier, in 1869, a seasonal hotel was opened on the bayside by Captain James Scott. It was called Scott’s Ocean House and could house 40 guests. People traveled from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wilmington, and Washington by stagecoach, train, and two masted sailing sloops to get to this bayside hotel.
In 1868, the Wicomico & Pocomoke Railroad ran from Salisbury to Berlin. Soon thereafter, Scott’s Ocean House in Green Run, had competition in the Atlantic House, “a new summer resort on the Synepuxent Bay and the bach, Md., now open ot the reception of visitors. The beach and surf bathing are said to be unsurpassed and the bay affords excellent opportunities for sailing, fishing and rowing. It is accessible by Railroad or steamboat from Baltimore. Address Henry Stokes and Co., Berlin, Md.” Ocean City was born when the Atlantic Hotel opened on July 4, 1875. Less than 20 years later, Scott’s Ocean House shuttered it’s windows, not able to compete with the new hotel in Ocean City.
During this same period, more vacation opportunities were initiated. Isaac Coffin opened a one-story guest house and barroom on Assateague just south of today’s Ocean City. It was supposedly named after a ship that wrecked on Assateague, the Rhode Island Inn. Prior to opening the Rhode Island Inn, Mr. Coffin had opened a hotel on the west side of Sinepuxent Bay named for himself. The ruins are still evident near Frontier Town off of Route 611. Mr. Coffin’s grandson, Captain William B. S. Powell, became the eighth Mayor of Ocean City, MD.
In 1872, James Massey, also of Berlin, build a guest house on the ocean which was later named Seaside Hotel. This property was destroyed in 1925 in a great fire which devasted 3 blocks of downtown Ocean City.
We will continue to add historical articles and blog posts, but until then, you should pick up a copy of ”City on the Sand” by Mary Corddry. There is a lot to learn about this small fishing village turned award-winning resort on the Atlantic Ocean.