Most people know Ocean City in its current form. The OCMD has hotels is home to fantastic beaches, pristine water, a beautiful boardwalk, and an assortment of attractions for tourists from far and wide to enjoy during the popular summer months. What many don’t realize, though, is that this city has a rich history dating back hundreds of years, since well before European settlers came to its shores. Here’s a look through the ages at some of the key points in the tale of this beautiful beachfront town.
Before the arrival of Europeans, Maryland was home to roughly 40 tribes of Native Americans, whose numbers exceeded 8,000 people. The facts and history that exist about the original inhabitants of the land are sparse. For example, there is no record for what term these people originally used to refer to the Chesapeake Bay. What we do know, however, is that most of the Native Americans in the region spoke Algonquian languages and had contact with other tribes as far as New York and Ohio.
In the 1500s, Europeans began making their way to the area we now know as Ocean City. Settlement here was sparse, though, and it remained a quaint fishing village for hundreds of years. Until the late 1860s, in fact, when one Isaac Coffin built the first beach-front cottage that was used to lodge paying customers.
This sparked the beginning of a new era. As people came to the area from far off destinations to fish and enjoy the wonders of the beach, more “boarding houses” were constructed to accommodate them, and a lucrative business opportunity was spied by curious entrepreneurs.
Wealthy businessmen soon descended upon the area, determining that they could develop the beachfront area into an active tourist spot, and so, in 1875, The Atlantic Hotel, Ocean City’s first hotel, was constructed. Coupled with the construction of a railroad bridging the bay, a fledgling resort town was now born.
The Latter part of the 1800s also saw the rise of the U.S. Life Saving Service, a prototype of what we now call the Coast Guard. Their original goal was a simple one, rescue the victims of shipwrecks that would occur due to storm activity in the area. They built two stations in the region, one of which exists to this day as the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, and details the history of the brave souls that once patrolled the waters.
The 20th Century saw further change come to the region. In 1900, the first Boardwalk was created, followed shortly thereafter by Trimper’s Amusements, home of the nation’s oldest continuously operating carousel and a host of other rides. The Atlantic Hotel, once owned and operated by Atlantic Hotel Company, was purchased by Charles Pumell in 1923. It is still run by the Pumell family to this day.
1933 saw a massive storm rock the region, but rather than put a dent in Ocean City’s momentum, engineers recognized this as an opportunity to transform the area even further. They finished what Mother Nature started, and created an inlet at the south end of Ocean City. This helped boost the success of the region’s fishing ports by offering easy access to prime fishing locations in the Atlantic Ocean.
Expansion continued after World War II. The construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 1952 made the area more accessible for those in Baltimore and Washington DC, creating even more reason for residents from the rest of Maryland to come to OCMD for a quick getaway. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel, which opened in 1964, created a more direct route for those coming from the Virginia Tidewater region.
With this new preponderance of access points, Ocean City rapidly became one of the largest tourist vacation destinations on the entirety of the American East Coast. The 1970s saw the boom of big business and continued construction of high-rise condos. Reinvestment and revitalization in the 1980s and 1990s helped to restore the luster of the beach, ensuring that Ocean City would continue strong into the coming decades.
The 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s also ushered in new attractions. The Wax Museum became Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. A multi-million dollar beach restoration pumped new sand onto the beach. Dune lines were re-established in front of the town’s oceanfront beaches. All this set the stage for the Ocean City tourists know and love today.
Now, Ocean City is seeing a tourism boom. During the busy season, Ocean City may see as many as 350,000 vacationers enjoying the beaches, staying in hotels, and checking out the other attractions. The summer season isn’t the only time visitors venture this far east. Annually, it is estimated that Ocean City sees up to 8 million visitors, and during the height of its powers, the city is the second most populated area in all of Maryland, save Baltimore.
What might the future hold? It certainly seems that Ocean City remains on the upswing, and with continued investment into the city, it will retain its spot as one of the premier tourist destinations in the country for years to come.