How does the small underbelly editorial team cope with colleagues traveling to the beach, mountains, and parts unknown while we’re stuck here running the blog and tending to our many other duties? We travel vicariously through photographs and post cards! While real beach-goers are dealing with staggering crowds, the oppressive sun, crawling traffic, and marching through a sea of sticky popsicle wrappers on the way to the boardwalk, we’ll stay here in the air-conditioned library and take a little trip back in time…we really need a vacation.
For this week’s post we’ve decided to write the definitive history of Maryland’s favorite vacation spot, Ocean City. Not really…but please enjoy the slideshow of postcards below and a brief tale of the storm that altered the course of the city that, during the summer months, becomes Maryland’s second most populated town. (For those interested in Ocean City’s rich history, please visit here or here. For further research, readers can check out Ocean City (volumes 1 and 2) by Nan Devincent-Hayes and John E. Jacob or City on the Sand by Mary Corddry.)
Originally called the Ocean City Life-Saving Station, the United States Coast Guard Station was built in 1891 by the U.S. Treasury Department for “the saving of vessels in distress and lives in peril upon the water.” In 1915 the U.S. Coast Guard took over the operations of the building until moving to a new facility in 1964. The building was relocated to its present location at 813 South Boardwalk in 1978 and converted to a museum. United States Coast Guard Station, ca 1940s, Ocean City, MD. Postcard Collection, MdHS.
One of the defining events in the history of the self-proclaimed “White Marlin Capital of the World” is the great storm of 1933, captured by A. Aubrey Bodine in the images below. On August 22 after four days of saturating rain, heavy winds picked up, battering the boardwalk, pummeling the city with large waves, and destroying the town’s railroad bridge and fishing camps. The storm’s greatest and most lasting impact was a 50-foot wide, 8-foot deep inlet, that was carved through the barrier island by a continuous four day ebb tide, flowing from the bay out to the ocean. Three entire streets were submerged at the south end of the town.
Ironically, the resulting scar connecting the ocean to the sheltered bay was exactly what turned Ocean City into the ideal port for fisherman and caused it to flourish as a vacation spot. In fact, for several years prior to the storm, Senator Millard E. Tydings had been fighting to get funding for a man-made canal five miles south of Ocean City. His hope was that the bay side would provide a calm harbor for up to 1,000 fishing boats which could easily access the Atlantic, and from there the markets of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Though the storm caused approximately $850,000 of damage, the main discussion in the immediate aftermath revolved around appropriations for constructing seawalls to make the canal permanent. Within two years $781,000 was spent on concrete to stabilize the inlet. Not only did these seawalls keep sand from the channel, but they diverted it towards the beaches, greatly expanding their size and making the boardwalk even with ground level.
This inlet made Ocean City the state’s only Atlantic port. The resulting commercial and sport fishing boom greatly shaped the character of the Ocean City we know today, as vacationers content with more modest accommodations flocked in large numbers to crab and fish, and dozens of hotels and restaurants sprang up to meet their needs. (Eben Dennis and Damon Talbot)
Sources and further reading:
Corddry, Mary, City on the Sand: Ocean City Maryland and the People Who Built It (Centerville, MD: Tidewater, 1991)
DeVincent-Hayes, Nan & Jacob, John E., Ocean City- Volumes 1 and 2 (Charleston: Arcadia, 1999)