Ocean City History: Photos from the First Historic House Tour

Ocean City’s downtown is replete with old buildings, some of them dating back to the 19th century and still functioning as they were originally intended to today. On Saturday, Oct. 13, the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum — itself one of the oldest structures in town — held its first Historic House Tour, allowing visitors to step inside some of downtown’s most historic churches, bed & breakfasts and beach homes, and reminisce on Ocean City days of yore.

The tour was designed by event chairman Daphne Hurley, its purpose to raise funds for the George and Suzanne Hurley Scholarship Fund. The memorial scholarship is open to graduating seniors of Stephen Decatur High School who plan to further their education at Wor-Wic Community College, Salisbury University or the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

In addition to the scholarship, Hurley was inspired by the abundance of old and history-rich buildings that make up Ocean City’s downtown.

“You come up Baltimore Avenue and you travel to wherever you’re going, and there are all these places where I think, ‘what are they like inside? I’ve never been in there, that’s interesting,'” Hurley said. “As our footprint changes, so does our history. Before this all goes away, we wanted to give people a chance.”

Eight buildings were included on the tour, including the museum and St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, St. Paul’s by the Sea Episcopal Church, the Atlantic House Bed & Breakfast, the Bay Breeze house, An Inn on the Ocean Bed & Breakfast, the Roberts Cottage and the Phillips’ family’s bayside home, where docents were present to give guests a brief history and tour of each location. 

The museum hopes to make the tour an annual event. Below is just a glimpse into what was featured on the first Historic House Tour, along with an inside look at what many lovingly refer to as “old Ocean City.” 

The Life-Saving Station Museum (1891)

The tour starts at the southernmost end of Ocean City at the Ocean City Museum Society’s headquarters, the Life-Saving Station Museum.  The museum itself is an Ocean City landmark of significant historical value, and the first stop on the Historic House tour; built in 1891, the structure was used first by the U.S. Life-Saving Service and then by the U.S. Coast Guard until 1964, when they moved to a new station. The original building fell into disrepair until 1977, when the Ocean City Museum Society was formed to rescue the landmark. It’s thanks to them, the Mayor and the City Council that the building was saved and moved to its current location at the Inlet. The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum is celebrating its 40th anniversary at this location this year. 

St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church (1880)

Dating back to 1880, the first Catholic church to open its doors in Ocean City is St. Mary Star of the Sea on South Baltimore Avenue. The Baltimore Sun reported in August of that year, “Right Rev. Bishop A. Thomas Becker celebrated mass and preached a sermon Sunday morning (August 8) in the new Catholic chapel, “Star of the Sea,” at Ocean City, MD.”
While construction of the church was completed in 1880, the first Catholic services in Ocean City were conducted around 1877. Mass was held in a room at the Myers’ Cottage on Wicomico St. and the Boardwalk, where Dolle’s is now located.
The docent that was present at this stop of the tour, Newt Weaver, was baptized at the church and has been attending mass here his whole life. He recalled hiding underneath one of the pews at four years old, and his father telling him, “get out from under there, that’s where the devil lives.” The woman sitting next to Newt’s father nodded in agreement, and Newt never crawled under the pews again. 

St. Paul’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church (1901)

Like the Catholic services, the first Episcopal services in Ocean City were held in the summer of 1877. The first Episcopal Church in town, St. Paul’s by-the-Sea on North Baltimore Avenue, was built in 1882. The current iteration of the church was built in 1901, after storms and vandals caused the original building to deteriorate. The first service in the new building was held on July 7, 1901, even with “its interior unfurnished and unfinished.” 
The building became the first in Ocean City to be named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
In 2013, a fire destroyed the rectory of the church and tragically claimed the life of Rector David Dingwall. In 2018, the fellowship commons was dedicated by the congregation and the community. 

Atlantic House Bed & Breakfast (1927)

In 1926, Ocean City hotel owner Josephine Hastings purchased the plot of land that the Atlantic House now sits on to build a cottage for her daughter, Florence. 
The cottage was converted to a bed & breakfast in 1987 by its then-owners, Bill and Helen Adkins. They called it the Falcon Crest. 
When the business changed hands again in 1993, it was renamed “Atlantic House Bed & Breakfast.” Today it’s owned by Gkergki and Marinella Drakos.
Vintage bathing suits were on display for the tour in one of the Atlantic House’s rooms.

The Bay Breeze (1950)

The Bay Breeze, a charming beach house on St. Louis Avenue, was designed and built by Robert “Bob” Craig in 1949-50. The home was restored between 2012 and 2016, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018. 
Bob Craig served on the Ocean City Beach Patrol  for 51 years, 41 of those years as Captain, until his retirement in 1986. 
In its early days, the house’s dormitory-style upper level served as a home for its owners while rooms on the main floor were rented out during the summer. A narrow wooden ladder in the right corner of this room, just out of frame, leads upstairs.
The house is filled with historic photos of Ocean City and the Ocean City Beach Patrol. In addition to the Historic House Tour, it was also a stop on the Art League’s Sandcastle Home Tour. With all of the Old Ocean City paraphernalia that line its walls and shelves, the Bay Breeze is practically a museum in and of itself. 

Inn on the Ocean (1932)

The cottage known as the Inn on the Ocean, located on the Boardwalk at 10th Street, was built in 1932 by then-Mayor William W. McCabe and his wife Harriet. 
The oceanfront cottage became a bed & breakfast in the 1980s, and has been known by the names “Rhodes Inn,” “Annabell’s” and “The Inn on the Ocean,” as it’s called today.
The rooms retain a classic and old-fashioned atmosphere, and guests can enjoy refreshments on the porch that sits just over the Ocean City boardwalk.
Another vintage bathing suit sits on the bed of this bed & breakfast, too — a fun easter egg for guests taking the Historic House Tour. Other stops on the tour not photographed here include the Roberts Cottage on Washington Lane, circa 1940, and the Phillips House on Teal Drive, circa 1983.
Kristin is a writer and photographer in Ocean City, Maryland, and is the content manager for OceanCity.com and other State Ventures, LLC sites. She loves getting reader-submitted stories and photos, so send her an email anytime. She also works part-time at the Art League of Ocean City and the Ocean City Film Festival and lives just off the peninsula with her dog and fiancé. Her photos can be found on Instagram @oc_kristin.

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