Ocean City: an 1800s Destination

It may be hard to believe now, but Ocean City used to be a small fishing village before it was transformed into a place for summer frolicking in the late 19th century.

Ocean City started to gain in popularity in the late 1870s, in part due to the availability of the resort by rail and by the hotels offering the comforts of the day. “The indications are that Ocean City, as a summer resort, is to be immensely popular the present season and that nothing conducive to the comfort and pleasure of visitors will be omitted,” proclaimed a July 1877 issue of the Denton Journal. “Passenger trains are now running from Phila., Wilmington and Balto. to Ocean City without change of cars.”

In 1877, vacationers had a few options as to where to stay. “The principal hotel — The Atlantic — kept by Mr. John Tracey, is alone capable of accommodating 400 to 500 guests, in addition to which are three or four other good sized hotels,” according to the Denton Journal.

The opening of the Seaside Hotel in was touted in The Easton Star the following year. “…[E]very arrangement has been made for a grand time at the opening, including champagne, a terrapin supper and a grand ball,” and the hotel, with “accommodations equal to first-class city hotels,” was run “by experienced Baltimoreans.”

In 1879, the Denton Journal reported “2,506 guests [stayed] at the main Ocean City hotel during the season,” though it didn’t state which hotel (my guess is The Atlantic).

By 1880, the same newspaper described Ocean City as “the great Maryland resort.”

The bathing is excellent and the beach one of the prettiest and safest along the coast. As far as the eye can reach both north and south, it is one line of surging foam. The boating is unsurpassed,” reads the article. “For sixty miles a delightful sail can be made with perfect safety on the beautiful Synepuxent [sic] Bay. The hotels are well conducted, with terms very moderate in comparison with other places, and there is always something going on to keep the days from becoming monotonous.”

With the gain in the resort town’s popularity came renovations to please the crowds. “The Atlantic Hotel, the pioneer, has also made handsome improvements. A large dancing pavillion [sic] has been erected on the north side of the ocean front, and a five-story addition made to the hotel building, considerably enlarging the dining-room and giving increased facilities for the accomodation [sic] of guests.”

This same Denton Journal article made a prediction as to the future of Ocean City:

“This place has made wonderful strides toward fame since the last season, which, if continued in the same degree hereafter, will soon make it one of the most popular resorts for people who prefer a quiet way of enjoying themselves to the excitement and flurry of the more fashionable resorts. There is no reason in this world why this should not be so, and if the place is conducted in an enterprising manner, such a result is inevitable.”

Today, more than 8 million people visit Ocean City, namely in the summer (including me!), and more than 7,000 live there year round, according to the 2010 census. The destination features 9,500 hotel rooms, 25,000 condos, more than 200 restaurants and lots to do, according to the Ocean City Department of Tourism.

Just as predicted.

Sources: Denton Journal, July 7, 1877, September 13, 1879, July 31 1880; The Easton Star, June 18, 1878; Ocean City Convention and Visitors Bureau and Department of Tourism

Image: Advertisement for Seaside Hotel, The Easton Star, July 23, 1878

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