OCEAN CITY, MARYLAND – THEN & NOW LOT 53
The “Charles Ludlam House” and the “William P. Laws House”
Figure 1: From The Washington Star, June 12, 1977.
George Goldsborough, a wealthy gentleman farmer from Talbot County, drew lot 53 at the Atlantic Hotel Company stockholders’ meeting held on August 31, 1875. George owned a large estate on the Miles River called “Ashby”, where, among other pursuits, he operated a “stock farm for breeding fine-blooded horses”. His wife Eleanor was the daughter of the prominent Baltimore businessman Lloyd N. Rogers, from whose estate she received a substantial inheritance in 1860, and the great-great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, from Martha’s first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis.
George and Eleanor did not build on their lot in Ocean City, but chose instead for their own reasons to erect a handsome cottage on what is now the northwest corner of North 1st Street and the Boardwalk. Shortly after George’s death in 1899, Eleanor sold the unimproved lot 53 to Captain Joshua J. Dunton, the keeper of the U.S. Life-Saving Service station in Ocean City, for $100. Dunton, who had developed several other nearby properties, opted to sell the vacant lot to fishing boat captain Charlie Ludlam in 1902 for $300.
Charlie Ludlam and his partner John Hagan had arrived in Ocean City in early 1897, and set out the first fish pounds. Pound fishing was a lucrative enterprise in its early years, providing Charlie with the means to build his large residence featuring a “distinctive three-story octagonal tower”. The original purpose of the smaller building on the south side of the property, which Charlie had erected by 1911, is not known.
Clinton T. Coffin paid Charlie $1,500 for the smaller building and lot in 1915. Clinton was only 21 years old at the time, but Charlie considered him creditworthy, taking back a mortgage of $1,400 that was repaid in full within five years. According to the Draft Registration card that Clinton completed on June 5, 1917, he worked for the Baltimore, Chesapeake & Atlantic Railroad. There is no record of subsequent military service; apparently his “defective vision” (as noted on his registration) and infant son precluded him from becoming a soldier. The 1920 federal census shows that he was operating a grocery store on the first floor of the building, where he lived with his wife Sara and son Samuel on the upper floor.
The remainder of Clinton’s life after the 1920 census was enumerated on January 2 is mostly a mystery. One potential clue about him is a conveyance that he executed later that year on December 20, in which he gave the Ocean City property to Sara in consideration of “love and affection”, reserving for himself a life estate. What is known is that Clinton had died by 1925, when Sara sold the lot and building to Arthur M. Adkins, a piling contractor, and moved in with her father Samuel J. Massey at his boarding house located next door to her former residence.
Arthur and Eva Adkins sold the property to their adopted daughter Lola Birch in 1933. Less than a year later, Kathryne Laws, the wife of William P. Laws, bought the property from Miss Birch. William P. Laws, originally from Salisbury, came to Ocean City in 1919 after his discharge from the Army for temporary work as a butcher. He ended up spending the rest of his life in the resort, operating a grocery store and butcher shop on the east side of Baltimore Avenue between Dorchester Street and Talbot Street that was a fixture in the community for over half a century. Kathryne, a Pennsylvania native who moved to Ocean City in the 1920s as a schoolteacher, was the organist for the Presbyterian Church. Their small living room was dominated by an organ that she used for practice (see Figure 1). The house remained in the Laws family until 1995.
Figure 2: The Charles Ludlam House and Regal Restaurant in 1993. A portion of the William P. Laws House can be seen at the left. From the Ocean City Museum Society archives.
After Robert J. Showell died in 1926, John Letcher gave the house and lot to his sister and her four adult children. Margaret had returned to her hometown of Lexington, Virginia, by 1930, and the house was probably rented out. Shortly before her death in 1936, Margaret and her children sold the property to Winfield S. Wallace, who owned the neighboring “Wallace Hotel” on Caroline Street, and Walter A. Jarmon, a railroad fireman who operated a small rooming house on the east side of Baltimore Avenue just north of North Division Street. The two men converted the first floor into the “Regal Restaurant” in 1938, and rented rooms on the upper floors as summer apartments. Jarmon bought out Wallace’s interest in 1939.
Walter Jarmon died in 1962, and his widow Lottie sold the lot and building to Benjamin and Mary McAllister from Hurlock, Maryland, in March 1963. The McAllister couple continued to operate the Regal Restaurant on the site until 1996, when they arranged a sale to a group of New Jersey businessmen for $235,000. Soprano’s Pizza, the current occupant, opened in the former Regal Restaurant space in 2001. Gerasimos Alivizatos bought the building from the New Jersey group in 2004 for $445,000.
The Maryland Historical Trust declined in 2003 and again in 2007 to designate the Charles Ludlam House as eligible for listing in the National Register of Historical Places. The 2007 review stated, “The single family dwelling has been converted to commercial uses, the windows have been replaced and the roof clad in composite shingles. The construction of enclosed spaces in the ground floor and a restaurant kitchen prevent the building from conveying its significance as an early twentieth century dwelling. Research conducted did not identify events or persons of local, state or national importance”. I disagree with the latter statement. Charlie Ludlam was certainly a person of local importance, inasmuch as he played a key role in establishing an industry that fueled the local economy for more than thirty years.
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