The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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Ocean City, Maryland - Then & Now Lot 49 Part Two
The Edwin Z. Purnell Store
1914 - Present
by By Gordon Katz
August 2012


The Edwin Purnell Store circa 1990
Photograph by Paul B. Touart
A brief recap of Part One: U.S. Life-Saving Service surfman Edwin Z. Purnell purchased the vacant lot 49 on the southeast corner of Baltimore Avenue and Talbot Street in 1897, and erected a store on the southern portion. After quitting the service in 1903 following a controversy between the keeper and the crew, Edwin lived and worked in Norfolk, Virginia between about 1904 and 1912. Once back in Ocean City, he joined with five other men to incorporate the Atlantic Fish Company. In 1914 he added a second store to his downtown property and sold the other building to John & Minnie Lynch.


Now in his mid-fifties, Edwin seemed content to live quietly and alone. He dabbled a bit in real estate, both in Ocean City and on the mainland, mostly lending money to others (he was always repaid), and, with the exception of his store on Talbot Street, seldom holding on to an investment for long. He acquired a furnished houseboat from Eugene Beauchamp in 1916, and when he wasn’t working he presumably spent his time aboard his floating home on the bay.
Edwin bailed out of the Atlantic Fish Company in 1917, selling his interest to the remaining partners. But a year later he joined with Charles H. Clarke, Jr., Charles Lee Parker and John R. Massey to form the “Isle of Wight Fish Company”, operating out of a building on the southwest corner of Baltimore Avenue and South 3rd Street that the men had purchased from William B. S. Powell and John H. Long. He was also briefly involved in 1919 with the Elliott brothers – William, John and Joseph – in their fish company. The Isle of Wight fish camp was later wiped out in the storm of August 1933 that formed the inlet.
The 1930 census report shows Edwin rooming with the widow Josephine Bowden, her granddaughter, also named Josephine, and two other boarders at Bowden’s house on Worcester Street. He stated that he had no occupation. Josephine Bowden reported that she was the owner and manager of a grocery store. It is possible that Edwin was no longer able to keep up with the daily demands of running his store on Talbot Street and had handed that responsibility over to Mrs. Bowden.
Edwin eventually developed diabetes, and in late February 1941 complications from the disease landed him in Peninsula General Hospital in Salisbury. While convalescing at the hospital he came to a curious conclusion – he was going to get married. This remarkable story appeared on the front page of The Salisbury Advertiser on March 7, 1941.
A pleasant-faced bride of less than a week kept vigil today at the bedside of her [79]-year-old husband at Peninsula General Hospital where the couple were united in a wheelchair ceremony.
The bridegroom is Edwin Z. Purnell of Ocean City, retired from a career as coast guardsman. He was in service at the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Ocean City.
Mrs. Purnell is the former Josephine Campbell, also of Ocean City, former waitress, who now operates a resort rooming house. She is in her forties and is the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Asher Campbell of Ocean City.
Mr. Purnell was seated in a wheelchair during the ceremony, which was performed Monday afternoon by Dr. Thomas A. Williams, pastor of Wicomico Presbyterian Church in Salisbury.
Mrs. Purnell’s friend, Mrs. Clarence Carey, of Ocean City and Mr. Purnell’s lawyer, Franklyn Upshur, of Berlin stood in the hospital room during the ceremony. Mr. Purnell’s private nurse also was present.
Although too ill to be questioned, Mr. Purnell, who looks younger than his years, was eager to talk about reports of a Norwegian vessel reported in trouble of Maridel Beach in Ocean City [the freighter “Olaf Bergh”].
“Oh, yes, I know exactly where that is,” he said, recalling to himself his own experience in aiding lost boats and seamen.
We have met Miss Josephine Campbell before, in the story of the lot on the southwest corner of Baltimore Avenue and Wicomico Street (lot 45). Josephine came to Ocean City with her mother around 1925. It would be fascinating to learn how and when she met Edwin. Perhaps he had dined at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress, or she had met him while shopping at his store, or maybe he had taken a room at her lodging establishment. Most likely we will never know that story, or how it was that Edwin, in failing health, decided to take Josephine as his wife.
Less than two months after the wedding, Edwin re-titled the store on Talbot Street in both of their names. It isn’t known exactly when Edwin died, but Josephine was a widow by 1946. She rented out the first floor of Edwin’s store to various commercial tenants, including Kitty’s Apparel during the 1950s, and accommodated summertime guests in the second floor apartments. Josephine sold the building in 1969 to Philadelphians Fay and Leon Kramer for $50,000.
The store on the southern half of lot 49 remained in the Lynch family until 1962 when John and Ruth Lynch sold it to W. Preston Laws. Laws had operated his grocery store out of one part of the building since 1919. In the 1940s Doris and Lester Wise opened the Knotty Pine Restaurant, a popular downtown eatery, in the other part of the building. Albert Wells and Linwood Hitch bought the building from Laws in 1973.



Board's Edge Village Condominium
Board's Edge Village Condominium
(gallery.ocdc.org)
In 1979 – 1980 the two buildings on lot 49 were purchased by Parshotam and Ramesh Sethi. While most of the oceanfront block between Talbot and Dorchester Streets disappeared under the massive footprint of the Belmont Towers project initiated in 2006, Mr. and Mrs. Sethi opted to redevelop the corner of Baltimore Avenue and Talbot Street into the Board’s Edge Village Condominium as part of the Ocean City Development Corporation’s ongoing revitalization initiative. The site now includes three retail stores on the first floor and four residential units on the second floor.

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