Vacationing on Maryland's Eastern Shore

Introduction

For over a century, Marylanders have migrated to the Eastern Shore during the vacation season. What are normally small rural Eastern Shore towns in the winter, become bustling commercial centers for entertainment and relaxation in the summer. For citizens of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and other Maryland cities, the Eastern Shore has served as the release valve from a crowded and polluted urban reality. Countless families in Maryland have stories and traditions of their times spent escaping to Maryland's Eastern Shore during the sweltering city summers. Resort spots began forming on the Eastern Shore in the 1850s and 1860s, but really began to explode during the 1870s and 1880s. Some locales, like Tolchester Beach and Betterton Beach, have lost their luster as a popular vacation spot. Others, like Ocean City, have continued to thrive.

As a part of Kent County, Tolchester Beach existed as a popular resort spot for almost 100 years. Captain William C. Eliason established the summer resort complex at Tolchester in 1857. By the late 1870s, Tolchester was a thriving vacation spot. In 1887, the Tolchester Beach Improvement Company of Kent County was incorporated. Facing the Chesapeake Bay, Tolchester was very popular among Baltimoreans who arrived by way of steamboat from the inner harbor area. By 1899, the three major steamboat companies who delivered passengers to the resort (Tolchester Steamboat Company of Camden, NJ, Chesapeake Steamboat Company of Baltimore City, and the Port Deposit & Havre de Grace Steamboat Company of Baltimore City) merged with the Tolchester Beach Improvement Company. After the short steamboat ride, vacationers would walk along the Tolchester pier and enter the complex through a grand arched entryway. The tired city dwellers would enjoy the Excursion House, hotel, restaurant, dance hall, bingo pavilion, souvenir booths, food stands, carousel and other amusement park attractions. One of the favorite attractions at the beach was a miniature steam train which took vacationers on rides around the amusement park. Still, the most common activity was bathing in the Chesapeake Bay. Female vacationers could rent a bathing suit which consisted of a blouse, skirted bloomers, and black stockings. Male vacationers could rent a knit one-piece bathing suit. Tolchester Beach was a popular weekend getaway for family excursions, reunions, and picnics. In the late 1950s, Tolchester Beach closed. In 1965, the 53 acres which included 1,825 feet of bay waterfront was put on the market.

Kent County's Betterton Beach also began in the 1850s as a 180-acre site where the Sassafras River met the Chesapeake Bay. Owned by Richard Townsend Turner, the vacation spot was named after Turner's wife's maiden name. The resort included a long pier in which passengers arrived via steamboat, grand hotels, a dance hall, and bathing houses. In addition, Betterton was famous for its plentiful fishing. Visitors generally came from Baltimore and Philadelphia. In 1984, Betterton was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Established in 1875 by members of the Atlantic Hotel Company Corporation, Ocean City is one of the most popular vacation spots on the Eastern Shore. Located between the Atlantic Ocean and Synepuxent Bay, Ocean City's first 50-acres of land were quite difficult to get to before the railroad entered the town. In 1868, the Wicomico & Pocomoke Railroad opened from Salisbury to Berlin, Maryland and later extended from Berlin to the west side of the Synepuxent Bay in 1878. From there, vacationers would ferry across the the bay to enjoy the ocean waves and ample hunting opportunities. By 1880, a railroad bridge was constructed across the bay. The first automobile bridge was constructed into Ocean City in 1916. Between 1900 and 1915 the first sections of the famed boardwalk were constructed because visitors found it difficult to walk in the sand. Once known as the Ladies Resort to the Ocean to attract female vacationers, many of Ocean City's early hotels were built and run by women because keeping house was primarily a female task. One of Ocean City's first early hotels, the Plimhimmon Hotel (also known as Plim Plaza) was built by Rosalie Tilghman Shreve in the late 1880s. As a widow, Shreve previously ran a boarding house in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City. Once a desolate paradise for game hunters in the 1870s, Ocean City has now become one of the most popular summer icons for generations of Marylanders.

Sources: Keiser, Jerry R., Patricia Joan O. Horsey, and William A. Biddle. Chestertown and Kent County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005. Robbins, Geoffrey H., ed. A Century of Seashore Hospitality: The History of Ocean City, MD., 1875-1975. Ocean City, MD: Ocean City Centennial Committee, 1975. Sullivan, John C. Old Ocean City: The Journal and Photographs of Robert Craighead Walker, 1904-1926. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12.

Era 6: The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)

STANDARD 2: Massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity.

STANDARD 2C: The student understands how new cultural movements at different social levels affected American life.

5-12: Investigate new forms of popular culture and leisure activities at different levels of American society. [Draw upon visual sources]

Era 7: The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

STANDARD 3: How the United States changed from the end of World War I to the eve of the Great Depression

STANDARD 3B: The student understands how a modern capitalist economy emerged in the 1920s.

5-12: Assess how increased leisure time promoted the growth of professional sports, amusement parks, and national parks. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Postcard, The Eastern "Sho"
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.123
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  2. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Tolchester Park - Kent County
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: ca. 1883 
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.1424
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  3. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Tolchester Park Bathing Beach
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: ca. 1883
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.2114
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  4. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Tolchester Beach, on the Pier
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Jul 21, 1909
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.2116
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  5. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Tolchester Pier
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1922
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.2097
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  6. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Tolchester - Whirlpool Dips
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1922
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.2099
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  7. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Tolchester Beach, Steamboat Passengers Arrive at Tolchester Beach
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    1943
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.2108
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  8. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Tolchester Beach
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.1079
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  9. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Tolchester Beach Pier
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS:

    SOURCE:
    H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.2096
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  10. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Tolchester collection - picnic grounds
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.1650 VF
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  11. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Tolchester - Railroad Bridge (caption: Tolchester, Looking up the Ravine)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.2115
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  12. DESCRIPTION: Postcard, "Oh You Vacation Time" - Betterton, Maryland
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.1000
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  13. DESCRIPTION: Postcard, Sunday School Picnic at Betterton Park
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.2117
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  14. DESCRIPTION: Photograph,  Group at Ocean City Md.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: ca. 1884
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.1362
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  15. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Ocean City (group portraits)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS:

    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.492
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  16. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Dining room, Plimhimmon Hotel
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS:
    SOURCE: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.1363
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  17. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Ocean City Plimhimmon Hotel Interior
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS:

    SOURCE:
    H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Z24.500
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

Additional Media Resources

Tolchester Beach Revisited

Chesapeake Bay Bridge History

Ocean City, Maryland History

Additional Instructional Resources

Having Fun: Leisure and Entertainment at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Recreation Yesterday and Today

When Work is Done

Secondary Resources

Burgess, Robert H. and H. Grahm Wood, Steamboats Out of Baltimore. Cambridge, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 1968.

Corddry, Mary. City on the Sand: Ocean City, Maryland, and the People Who Built it. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 1991.

Keiser, Jerry R., Patricia Joan O. Horsey, and William A. Biddle. Chestertown and Kent County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005.

Marye, William B., "The Sea Coast of Maryland." Maryland Historical Magazine XL (June 1945): 94-118.

Robbins, Geoffrey H., ed. A Century of Seashore Hospitality: The History of Ocean City, MD., 1875-1975. Ocean City, MD: Ocean City Centennial Committee, 1975.

Sullivan, John C. Old Ocean City: The Journal and Photographs of Robert Craighead Walker, 1904-1926. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

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Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Sarah Davis.

 

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