First Families of Ocean City
The June 1, 1880 Census
To say the least, few people were settling into Ocean City, Maryland. A desolate and remote island in 1880, it is a wonder to find forty-eight souls living here the year round. The modern generation can not possibly realize just how far from the mainstream of America the fledgling village of Ocean City was.
The village was comprised of 27 adults and 21 children. There were six Blacks, two people who hailed from Austria and Switzerland, five from Delaware and Pennsylvania and the rest having been born in the State of Maryland.
The surnames of Purnell, Johnson, Hudson, Massey, Pitts and Powell are familiar to the area, though only Samuel J. Massey can be found in the written history of the town. Massey, though listed as a farmer, was the owner of the Seaside Hotel which was located on Wicomico Street and Baltimore Avenue. The hotel stood where Elliott's Hardware is now located.
Have we over romanticized Ocean City's early years? Perhaps we have, as the Census throws no sense of grandeur to the town. The reason that Ocean City existed was because of the newly built Atlantic Hotel whose investors, we dare say, never lived in the village; they were all wealthy gentlemen from the Eastern Shore, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. The two brothers Joseph and George Fleming were the only people on the island to represent the prestigious Hotel Atlantic. The Life-Saving Station was newly built on the outer limits of the town at Caroline Street and the beach, although its crew of seven men are not listed in the census. It is highly likely that the life-savers had left the station house and the island for the summer when they were not on active duty. The rail road families had not as yet settled in, which leads one to believe that rail service to the island was extremely limited except during the high summer months of July and August. The United States government also had a man named John C. Rickle on the island as the US Signal Service operator. He was married and the couple boarded with the Massey family at the Seaside Hotel.
Eleven buildings, including the Catholic Church, the United States Life-Saving Station and the two hotels were all the town had to offer in 1880. It can be documented that Ocean City saw little to no growth over the next ten years, and it would not be until the mid-1890s that the town would develop into a full fledged resort.
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