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One Ocean City’s Family Legacy; the Tarry-a-While Guest House

For one hundred and five years (1899-2004), the Tarry-a-While Guest House, which was originally located at 8 Dorchester Street in downtown Ocean City, served thousands of visitors over its lifespan.  Constructed as a rooming house by Margaret Vandergrift, a widow from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she then lost its ownership by defaulting on her mortgage as a result of another real estate deal, she was involved in that went sour.  The property was sold to Thomas J. Cropper at a public auction held in 1901 and for which it stayed in the Cropper family hands until 2004.   

Tarry-a-While Guest House at 8 Dorchester Street prior to its 2004 move.

The Architecture of the Tarry-a-While Guest House

According to Paul Baker Touart, who included the Tarry-a-While in his book, Along the Seaboard Side:  The Architectural History of Worcester County, he noted, “… the Tarry-A-While guest house, is a rare survivor of the city’s late nineteenth century architecture.  Characteristic of many Ocean City buildings erected during this nineteenth century is the plain, straightforward nature of the structure, which has little ornamentation.  Historic photographs of this property indicate the structure has changed little since the early twentieth century.”   This building contained, and still contains, the deep porches, gabled roof ends, and lapboard style siding that was common in many older, Ocean City cottage style buildings. 

Cropper/Davis family about 1929 on porch of Tarry-a-While

The Cropper Family Ownership

Thomas Cropper and his wife, Sallie, sold the property to their daughter, Violet Cropper Davis, in 1929.  She and her family managed the Tarry-a-While until her death in 1995.  Her executors sold the property in 1996 to Paul and Cathy Morris; Cathy was a granddaughter of Violet Cropper Davis.  In 2004, the property was sold to Russell “Bo” Ruggerio, who intended to include this property with other properties into a new, eight story tall, mixed-use project called the Belmont Towers, which was constructed and is located on most of this ocean block between Dorchester and Talbot Streets.

Cropper Davis family and others on Tarry porch on moving day in 2004 with Russell “Bo” Ruggerio and then Mayor Jim Mathias.

Statements on life at the Tarry-A-While as written by Art Davis in his article, “Memories of Life on a Sandbar” for the Ocean City Museum Society, Inc. 

“It was a three-story house guesthouse.  There were thirteen rooms on the second and third floors.   It was advertised that we could house twenty-five paying guests.  All of these rooms shared one bathroom, but each room had its own sink.” 

“The guests were given a key to their rooms, but each was a skeleton key that would open every door in the house.  I don’t remember any complaints. “

“The first floor was reserved for our family.  That is, until all the upstairs were rented.  Then every member of the family had to move out so we could rent out those rooms.  We sometimes slept in the living room …  I think we sometimes got as high as $5 for a room.

Moving and Saving the Tarry-a-While

With knowledge of this newly planning redevelopment project which would result in the demolition of this 1899 building, the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) approached Mr. Ruggerio about donating this structure to the Town of Ocean City and OCDC so that it could be moved and renovated on a vacant parcel owned by the Town at 108 Dorchester Street; three hundred feet to the west of its current location.  Mr. Ruggerio agreed.  The OCDC is a nonprofit organization, created in 2000 and charged with revitalizing downtown Ocean City. 

The Town of Ocean City and OCDC contracted with Expert House Movers of Sharpstown, Maryland to move this building in November 2004.   Local contractor, George Hurley, coordinated this move from the Town of Ocean City’s side.  The full building, its 1899 main part and its 1921 two-story rear addition were moved all at once.  The side porch was removed due to its frailty as well as its maneuverability in navigating the structure westwards on Dorchester Street and into its property between two other buildings. There were many people present to witness the moving of this building along Dorchester Street at this 2004 event.

Tarry-a-While being moved along westwards on Dorchester Street. 2004

Renovation of the Tarry-a-While

Once the building was moved and set on its new foundation at 8 Dorchester Street, all efforts turned to extensive renovation work.  The exterior of the building was reconstructed in a very similar manner as the original appearance.  However, the interior work included a variety of changes including removing the plaster board and replacing it with drywall, installing modern insulation, reducing the number of bedrooms on the upper floors to allow for larger rooms, updating all plumbing and electric fixtures, installing new fire sprinklers, a modern air conditioning and heating system, and more.  Richard Malone, of the Town of Ocean City’s Public Works Department, served as the project coordinator on this renovation work.  This extensive work took over two years and in May 2007, the project was completed. 

A dedication ceremony was held formally on August 16, 2007 with many in attendance, including then Governor Martin O’Malley, Mayor Rick Meehan and City Council members, OCDC President Greg Shockley, OCDC board members, and other community members and officials.  In addition, members of the Violet Cropper Davis family attended including; her son Art Davis, who served as OCDC Treasurer for many years, her daughter, Joyce Davis Harrison, as well as Paul and Cathy Morris.  Paul, like Art, served as a founding board member of the OCDC. 

Dedication of renovated Tarry-a-While at 108 Dorchester Street in 2007

Points of Interest

  •  The Tarry-a-While was the first rooming house in Ocean City that provided running water to each of its bedrooms.  This amenity was used in the marketing of this rental property.
  •  Art Davis and his sister, Joyce, were born in the Tarry-a-While in 1928 and 1930, respectively. 
  • This small lot (50’ x 100’) at 8 Dorchester Street also contained a small, two-story building in its rear yard that was not part of the original building, but was added for additional rental housing units.  This building was not part of the relocation process.
  •  The telephone number for the Tarry-a-While in its early years as simply Ocean City 134.
  •  Unlike many rental housing units in Ocean City, the Tarry-a-While was open all year.
  • The two parties involved in this 2004 building move, Expert House Movers and George Hurley, were also involved in the relocation of the OC Lifesaving Station Museum from Caroline Street to its present location at the south end of the Boardwalk in 1978.

 

The Tarry A While is a fully renovated building which now houses OCDC offices and Ocean City Beach Patrol seasonal housing.

Current Use of the Building

This newly renovated Tarry-a-While building became the office of the OCDC, with its two person staff working on its first floor.  For the summer of 2007, OCDC provided housing on the two upper floors to the Ocean City Beach Patrol employees (lifeguards).  The upper floors contain eight rooms which houses thirteen seasonal OCBP employees.  It is located nearby the newer OCBP headquarters.  In addition, a small kitchen area was provided, as well as storage room for OCBP items and commonly shared restrooms; one for male and one for female residents.  This housing continues to serve seasonal employees of OCBP and allows OCBP to better market to first year employees who are looking for summer housing.   The proceeds of funds from these seasonal leases are used towards utility costs, and also to maintain and improve the building as needed. 

So, over one hundred and twenty years later, the Tarry-a-While continues to serve visitors to Ocean City; just not tourists, but rather seasonal lifeguards.  And like past visitors, these lifeguards will continue to build memories of being in Ocean City and living at the Tarry!

 

Glenn Irwin
Glenn Irwin
Glenn “retired” in March, 2023 after almost 23 years as Executive Director of the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC). The OCDC is a nonprofit organization that is charged with revitalizing downtown Ocean City. Glenn continues to be involved in several community organizations. Glenn lives in Ocean City and regularly rides throughout the downtown area and boardwalk for exercise and pleasure several times per week, often year-round,. Glenn is our OC Bike Guy and often live streams his downtown rides for oceancity.com as well as takes pictures.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I SPENT MANY HAPPY DAYS IN MY CHILDHOOD-VISITING MY AUNT VIOLET & GRANDPARENTS, & COUSINS, ART & JOYCE DAVIS AS ART & I WERE THE SAME AGE. MY GRANDPOP GAVE HIS MANY GRANDCHILDEN A NICKLE EVERY SATURDAY IF WE STOPPED IN TO GIVE HIM A KISS !! I Was named after my Grandmother Sallie but was taught to spell it Sally.

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