Let’s take a walking tour of downtown Ocean City with Glenn Irwin, the previous Executive Director of the Ocean City Development Corporation, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation and betterment of downtown Ocean City, Maryland. If you are looking for something to do in Ocean City, then put on your walking shoes and get ready to dive back into the history or our oceanfront resort town.
Old Town Ocean City, MD
Just a little background on downtown Ocean City which is the oldest part of Ocean City. Much of “Old Town” is found south of N. Division Street or the road where Route 50 bridge enters Ocean City. It developed in the late 1800’s. There are several buildings still around from that era. This walking tour loop is one of many options and covers about 1 mile in length. It highlights several buildings, properties and projects in the downtown area. Each building, property, and street in downtown has its own story, history, and special points of interests. It is these elements that make Ocean City and its downtown area such an interesting and loved place for so many residents and visitors.
This walking tour starts at Sunset Park, which is located at 700 S. Philadelphia Avenue, just south of the US Coast Guard station, near the inlet. The park was designed with the cooperation of the Town of Ocean City and Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) in 2006. Prior to this use the property was a dead-end street that was primarily used for construction staging operations for off-season capital projects by the Town. Historically this street, which is the extension of S. Division Street to the bay was the location of the train bridge that connected Ocean City to West Ocean City. This train bridge was destroyed in the 1933 storm, which also created the Ocean City inlet. The train served two purposes; to bring people to Ocean City and to transport fish caught by OC locals to larger markets. Before tourism, fishing was an important industry for the early residents of Ocean City.
Currently, Sunset Park is used for a variety of events, including weddings, free weekly concerts, during the summer season, and as a passive park. It is also the location of the Shore Craft Beer festival that will be held on October 28th of this year. It is a very popular location for birdwatchers, too.
Immediately to the south of Sunset Park is a privately owned property that has been approved for an 8-story hotel with restaurant. Pursuit of a development permit and construction of this new project is expected to start sometime after this 2023 summer season.
Cropper’s Fish Camp
Heading east along S. Division Street one will come to 103 South Division Street. This structure was built about 1912 and is very similar to many of the older buildings that were constructed in Ocean City at that time and referred to as a “Fish Camp” house. These housed often served as the office of the fish camp owner and provided housing for the fishing crew. These were very simple buildings with deep front porches. This specific building was also included in the setting of the 1984 movie called “Violets Are Blue” which featured Sissy Spacek and Kevin Kline.
Immediately east of this building, one arrives at the Henry Hotel. Sometimes referred to as the Henry’s Colored Hotel due to its importance in the segregation years of Ocean City. It was constructed in 1916 and was listed on the “green book” of places that African-Americans were only allowed to stay during the segregation days of the 1960s and prior. This building is on the Worcester County African-American Heritage Trail. A nonprofit organization, called the Henry Hotel Foundation was recently established to work with the property owners to renovate the building as well as to highlight its importance in the history of Ocean City.
From this location we walk south along S. Baltimore Avenue passing the Trimper Rides to our east. The Trimper Rides have been a mainstay in Ocean City for over a century and along with the boardwalk, attract many visitors to the downtown area. The highlight of these carnival rides is the 1902 Hershman-Spellman carousel which is contained in the interior of the Trimper Rides building. Making a left turn we enter S. 1st Street, which runs through the Trimper Rides on both sides of the street. This attractive pedestrian way that runs from S. Baltimore Avenue to the boardwalk was a joint project of the State of Maryland, OCDC, Town of Ocean City, and Trimper Rides. This project was completed about 2005.
Ocean City Boardwalk
This pedestrian street takes us to the popular Ocean City boardwalk which dates back to 1902. Several of the property owners would install boardwalk decking in front of their properties and remove it once the season was over. In 1920, a permanent boardwalk was constructed. The boardwalk was totally redesigned in 1999 and has been re-decked over the past two winters. The boardwalk has been rated one of the best boardwalks in the country. The boardwalk runs from the Ocean City Inlet to 27th Street; it is 2 1/4 miles long. The beach and boardwalk are two primary attractions for Ocean City visitors as well as its residents.
Ocean City Lifesaving Museum
From S.1st Street, one can look or walk to the south end of the boardwalk and see the Ocean City Lifesaving Station Museum. This museum has a number of very good exhibits that tell some interesting stories of the history of this area. It also serves as the historic research and depository of records for the Town of Ocean City. Originally this 1891 building was located at Caroline Street and the boardwalk, however, in the 1970s, it was relocated to the current spot at the south end of the boardwalk.
Some of the Oldest Buildings in Ocean City
Walking northwards along the boardwalk from S. 1st Street, one will see some of the oldest buildings and businesses in Ocean City. For example, Dolle’s Candyland store at Wicomico Street which is over 100 years old. On the east side of the boardwalk is the pier building, constructed in 1926; it contains more rides and attractions and is managed by Jolly Rogers Amusements. On the Boardwalk side of this building is Thrasher French Fries and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. Continuing north, we pass by Wicomico Street which contains many of the popular bars that serve locals and visitors alike.
Walking further north one will see many of the boardwalk businesses that have been in existence for many years. Of significance is the Atlantic Hotel, which was originally built in 1875 and is considered the founding of the Town of Ocean City. This building burned down in 1925. It was rebuilt the following year and continues to serve Ocean City visitors in this prime boardwalk spot.
Further north we pass the archway sign of Somerset Plaza, which is a semi pedestrian street designed and constructed by the OCDC and Town of Ocean City in 2002. Along this street are a number of businesses and an eatery that provides outdoor seating. During the summer months, there are several smaller special events held on the street, for example, car displays by the OC Cruzers and their custom cars.
Just north of the Belmont Tower building at Dorchester Street, one will find Fishers Popcorn store, a long-standing business in Ocean City. Now we head back to Dorchester Street and walk west passing some of the wall murals completed as part of the OCDC public art program as well as several of the 35 painted utility boxes found throughout the downtown area. Many of these projects are joint projects between the OCDC and the Art League of Ocean City.
Bank of Ocean City becomes the New Ocean City Life Saving Museum Annex
Coming to the corner of S. Baltimore Avenue and Dorchester Street one sees the former Bank Ocean City building, which was donated by the Bank to the Town of Ocean City about 2 years ago. This building is expected to be under full renovation after the summer of 2023 with the intent of it becoming an annex to the OC Lifesaving Station Museum. It will contain a number of exhibits and information on the history of Ocean City.
On the west side of S. Baltimore Avenue at the same intersection, one can see the recently constructed Fat Daddys restaurant, a popular eatery. This building also contains upper floor employee housing.
The Downtown has a high concentration of employee housing; particularly seasonal housing for American and foreign workers. The summer labor force is vital to the overall Ocean City economy. Many of these foreign college students come via what is called a J-1 program, which allows a student to work four months at their host city. Many of Ocean City’s J-1 students come from East Europe, Dominican Republic, parts of Asia, and several other countries.
Dorchester Street/Talbot Street
Continuing our walking tour north along S. Baltimore Ave., we pass the Dorchester/Talbot block, which has a number of recently constructed and renovated buildings. Many of these buildings were assisted by the OCDC and its façade improvement program which provides state funds for building renovation of older buildings. At 208 S. Baltimore Avenue, one passes the Saint Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, which is considered the oldest building in Ocean City. This church was constructed about 1897. It has been fully renovated and is one of several downtown churches, which play in important role in the Ocean city community.
More Ocean City Historic Buildings
Continuing one block north on S. Baltimore Ave., we come to Caroline Street. At the southwest corner of this intersection is a building which is one of the few and oldest Victorian era style buildings in Ocean City. This building contains Soprano’s Pizza restaurant on the first floor and residential units on the upper floors. Continuing west on Caroline Street we arrive at a very quiet street (one way traffic west bound only) surprisingly, considering it’s only one block south of the heavily trafficked N. Division Street. This street contains a number of older buildings.
White Marlin Fountain Welcomes You to Ocean City
At the intersection of this street and S. Philadelphia Avenue, we see the welcoming White Marlin sculpture and water feature positioned at the entrance of Ocean City, at the base of Route 50 bridge. This significant stainless-steel sculpture was OCDC ‘s first public art project and was constructed in 2002 with private donations. The water feature was added one year afterwards with additional private contributions.
Turning left and heading south on S. Philadelphia Avenue, one can see a large number of older buildings. Many of these continue to provide employee and year-round housing for Ocean City and its strong tourism economy.
Ocean City Beach Patrol Headquarters
Located at the south east corner of S. Philadelphia Avenue and Talbot Street is the Ocean City Beach Patrol headquarters. This is an important facility for all of Ocean City and in particular an anchor for the downtown district. This attractive building was constructed about 2015 and solidified the importance of the Ocean City Beach Patrol and its history. It is a good example of a newly constructed building following the downtown design standards.
Tarry A While Guest House
Immediately south of this building at 108 Dorchester St. is the office of the OCDC which also provides housing for the summer lifeguards on the second and third floors. This building is called the Tarry A While Guesthouse; constructed in 1897. It was originally located at 8 Dorchester Street but was moved by the Town of Ocean City and OCDC in 2005 to save from demolition as that property was slated for redevelopment. It was fully restored by the Town and OCDC. Its wide porches, lap siding, and dormers make for an attractive seaside style architecture building that was often found in downtown Ocean City.
Boardwalk Style Walkway in front of Sunset Park and the Coast Guard Facility
Continuing on the west side of S. Philadelphia Avenue is a very wide pedestrian walkway. This was constructed as part of the 2008 street improvements of S. Philadelphia Avenue by the Maryland State Highway Administration. As one passes Dorchester Street to the west, you can see a number of older buildings that are used for seasonal employee housing.
Historic Ocean City Railway Station Location
Continuing southwards one passes the parking lot of the Kitchen restaurant. The parking lot of this restaurant was the actual location of the Ocean City railway station prior to the 1933 storm that destroyed the railroad bridge coming into Ocean City. Just south of this block is the Dumser’s Dairyland ice cream factory. You may notice, this building is a small replica of the pier building located on the boardwalk that currently contains the Ripley’s Museum.
US Coast Guard Station
We close out our walking tour passing the US Coast Guard station, which is immediately north of Sunset Park. The Coast Guard station is an important facility that provides safety to both recreational and commercial boaters on the Ocean City area waterways.
If you have a chance to take this walking tour of downtown Ocean City, as mentioned, it is merely a summary of some of the interesting things one will find in the downtown area. For information on the history of Ocean City, one of the best places to start with the Ocean City Lifesaving Station Museum located at the south end of the Boardwalk.