The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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Ocean City, Maryland Then & Now - Lot 9, The Major Part Of Lot 10 & The Easterly 1/2 Of Lot 25
Part One: 1875 TO 1913
by Gordon Katz
February 2011

Detail from 1875 plat of Ocean City with subject lots highlighted (western orientation)
The property description dates from 1913, but it hasn’t changed since then. The history of this Boardwalk parcel, located on the north corner of Somerset Street, reflects many of the changes that have occurred in Ocean City over the past 135 years. The modest two-story brick building that occupies the site today provides few clues to the property’s past and the fact that its provenance includes ownership interests held by individuals who played pivotal roles in the town’s development in both the 19th and 20th centuries. Men such as Lemuel B. Showell, Charles F. Holland, John F. Waggaman and Dr. Frank J. Townsend were all one-time owners of one or more of the lots. Our story includes these men and others who had a hand in shaping this property, both then and now.

At the meeting of the Atlantic Hotel Company stockholders on August 31, 1875 to distribute building lots, William T. Hamilton drew number 10, an oceanfront lot between Dorchester and Somerset Streets. Hamilton was a lawyer who hailed from Washington County, Maryland, one of the few stockholders who were not from Baltimore, Philadelphia or the Eastern Shore. He had served as a U.S. Senator from 1869 – 1875, and later as governor of Maryland from 1880 – 1884. Hamilton died in 1888, reportedly “one of the richest men in the State”. His widow Clara sold the unimproved lot in 1901 to Dr. Francis J. “Frank” Townsend from Snow Hill, Maryland for $800. Dr. Townsend was the first medical practitioner to open an office in Ocean City. With financing from a mortgage co-signed by his parents, Robert and Susan Townsend, he erected a two-story building on the site called “The Washington Pharmacy” that served as an office, residence and pharmacy. He added a soda fountain in 1903 along with showcases filled with other merchandise such as “cigars, chocolates [and] souvenirs”, the latter including several Ocean City postcard series that he published. The settlement of a boundary dispute with his neighbor Jean Herring, whose cottage on lot number 11 extended two and half feet over the property line into Dr. Townsend’s lot, resulted in the descriptive term “the major part of lot 10” following an agreement in 1907 to redraw the property line. Dr. Townsend added a new line of business in August 1912 when he introduced rolling chairs to the Ocean City boardwalk. He purchased the adjoining Boardwalk property on the corner of Somerset Street (lot number 9) and half of the lot next to it facing on Somerset Street (number 25) in 1913 and later used the property to expand his pharmacy operation in 1929.

THEN: Rolling chairs posed on the Boardwalk next to The Washington Pharmacy ca. 1915
The original ownership of lot numbers 9 and 25 is unclear. One or both were drawn at the meeting in 1875 by either Horace Fassitt, a wealthy retired Philadelphia businessman, or Lemuel Showell, an even wealthier Worcester County gentleman. The remaining lots along the north side of Somerset Street – numbers 30, 41 and 46 – were also drawn by these two men. Showell eventually emerged as the owner of lot numbers 9, 25 and 30, the three eastern lots starting at the Boardwalk, and Fassitt ended up with numbers 41 and 46, the two western lots at the corner of Baltimore Avenue. Lemuel Showell suffered a series of business reversals in the mid-1880s, and he was forced to seek bankruptcy protection in October 1887. The deed of trust turning over his assets to two court-appointed trustees noted that one of lot numbers 9, 25 and 30 was “improved by stables and carriage house”. The Atlantic Hotel Company purchased the three lots at a public auction the following year and converted the carriage house into a ladies’ bathhouse, and used another building closer to Baltimore Avenue as housing for its Negro employees. Lemuel’s wife Anna, whose considerable assets were not included in his bankruptcy filing, purchased lot numbers 41 and 46 from Horace Fassitt in 1889 but sold them a year later to Judge Charles F. Holland of Salisbury. Holland had acquired the assets of the Atlantic Hotel Company earlier in April 1890 after forcing a court-ordered sale to recover a judgment he held against the company. The assets Holland acquired, in addition to the hotel property itself, included lot numbers 9, 25 and 30. With his purchase of lot numbers 41 and 46, Judge Holland controlled the entire north side of Somerset Street from the Boardwalk to Baltimore Avenue. He transferred his holdings in 1891 to a new entity he had formed called “The Atlantic Hotel Company of Ocean City”. Holland’s associates included Worcester County attorney George W. Covington, Maryland Governor Elihu E. Jackson, Berlin real estate speculator Henry A. Godfrey and the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates George M. Upshur. Washington D.C. developer John F. Waggaman bought the company’s properties in 1892 and promptly sold them to the “Sinepuxent Beach Company of Baltimore City”, which had earlier purchased the late Stephen Taber’s entire holdings on Sinepuxent Beach and two large farms Taber had owned at Hammock Point on the mainland.

The Sinepuxent Beach Company financed sorely needed improvements in Ocean City, which had stagnated during the 1880s, and aggressively marketed the unsold building lots acquired from Taber’s estate. A building boom took off during the early 1890s, fueled both by the resort’s improved amenities and the opening of a new and faster railroad crossing from Claiborne on the Chesapeake Bay to Ocean City. But in a pattern often repeated since, the boom fizzled due to overbuilding and the Sinepuxent Beach Company went into receivership in 1897. John Waggaman stepped in to pick up the pieces, purchasing the company’s assets in early 1898 for $65,000. Waggaman continued and expanded on the initiatives already underway, which included the construction of the town’s first electric power plant. Waggaman sold his Ocean City properties in 1905 to a new group of Baltimoreans who had incorporated the “Ocean City Development Company”. Less than three years later that company also failed when property values in the resort plummeted in the wake of a referendum approving “local option” in Worcester County, which prohibited the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages as of April 1, 1908. The bankruptcy trustee sold the five Somerset Street lots as a block to Robert D. Grier and Emma C. Williams in 1908. Grier and Williams unloaded the lots for $3,250 in 1912 to Jacob and Lena Perskie of Worcester County, who then sold half-interests to Pocomoke City residents Felix Lake and Lillian M. Townsend. Mrs. Townsend bought out Felix Lake’s interest in 1913, and it was she who broke up the block by selling lot number 9 and the easterly half of lot 25 to Dr. Townsend in 1913, and lot numbers 30, 41, 46 and the westerly half of lot 25 to Amanda Marshall in 1915.

Dr. Townsend’s expanded Washington Pharmacy at Somerset Street (ca. 1930)
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