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  • Shannon Frantz

The Early History Of Ocean City, Maryland - Part 1 of 2

Updated: Oct 13, 2018

Since my husband, Dan, has visited Ocean City, Maryland off and on since his childhood 35+ years ago, since I've been a regular since college, and since my daughter, Allie was born, we've all started taking an active interest in the history of the town. In particular, how it evolved from uninhabited sprawling dunes and tall seagrasses into the relaxing beachside luxury vacay many of us crave each summer (and for our family, even more!) to the hustling complex that offers so many things for visitors to do. This post is Part 1 of 2 and explores the early history of OCMD.


Ocean City, Maryland, was originally home to the Algonquian tribes, who often fished there. In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano surveyed the east coast of North America and documented the barrier island. However, it wasn’t until the 17th century, when British colonists moved north from Virginia that the first settlements began in the region.


The land that Ocean City was built upon, as well as much of the surrounding area, was once owned by an Englishman named Thomas Fenwick. Businessman Isaac Coffin built the first rentable beach-front cottage in 1869. During this time period, the town was known as “The Ladies’ Resort to the Ocean.”

The original Atlantic Hotel helped move Ocean City from a fishing village into a resort.

The town remained a small fishing village until July 4, 1875, when the Atlantic Hotel welcomed its first visitors. It included amenities like dancing and billiards, with over 400 rooms. By 1881, the railroad from Berlin crossed Sinepuxent Bay, making travelling easier and thereby establishing Ocean City as a resort. Due to the island’s isolation, people arrived by stage coach and ferry during this time period. People immediately enjoyed fishing and the sights and sounds of the Atlantic Ocean pounding against the sandy beach, often collecting and selling seashells to tourists.


Due to the Atlantic Hotel’s success, other simple boarding houses were built with the goal of attracting prominent businessmen from cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Wilmington. These pioneering professionals decided to form a corporation, with the goal of developing the island into 250 lots. The corporation stock of 4,000 shares sold for $25 each.

The first Ocean City Lifesaving Station was smaller than the second, the familiar inlet museum tourists often visit.

In 1878, the U.S. Life-Saving Service, established a station to rescue shipwreck victims that were caught in storms. The second station, built in 1891, is now the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, which is still a tourist attraction today. It showcases the history of the town and the brave men who risked their lives to save others.


In 1900, the same year that the first boardwalk was built, Trimper's Amusements opened. Trimper’s continues to be a place that generations of family members can fondly recall, with vivid memories of the famous carousel, games, and rides. Oddly enough, the boardwalk wasn't a year-round fixture back then, since the boards were pulled up during the off-season!

One of the beautiful horses on the Trimper's Carousel, a staple of Ocean City since 1900.

There's more history still to come, so check back soon for Part 2 - The Late History of Ocean City, Maryland.

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