Ocean City, Maryland – THEN & NOW LOTS 18, 19, 20 and 35
"The Maryland Inn property"
Figure 1: Postcard view of the Maryland Inn (lot 19) circa 1924. The “Le Nid” (lot 18) is pictured at the left. A small portion of the “Sea Breeze Hotel” (lot 35) can be seen at the right along the south side of Caroline Street.
Cindy Vollmerhausen collection.
Lot 18, located on the Boardwalk between Caroline Street and Talbot Street, was among the first properties to be developed in Ocean City following the opening of the Atlantic Hotel on July 4, 1875. Stephen Taber, the wealthy Long Island businessman who deeded the land on which Ocean City was founded, drew lot 18 at the stockholders’ meeting of the Atlantic Hotel Company held at the hotel on August 31, 1875. But Taber evinced little interest in the resort, and he sold his lot shortly after the drawing to William L. Sirmon, the railroad agent at Delmar, Delaware, for his cost of $100. By 1877 Sirmon erected a two-story plus attic cottage on the lot, with seven rooms and porches on the front and back providing a view of both the ocean and the bay.
William Sirmon put the house and lot up for sale in 1883 with a listing price of $1,300, which he claimed was “a bargain”. However, there was little demand for Ocean City real estate in the 1880s. Sirmon was finally able to find a buyer in 1889 when Snow Hill attorney George M. Upshur, a former Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, and William C. Franklin, the son of Atlantic Hotel Company stockholder Littleton P. Franklin, agreed to pay him $500 for the property. The two men’s timing was fortuitous, as Ocean City experienced a real estate boom in the early 1890s following the opening in 1890 of the Baltimore and Eastern Shore Railroad, with its quicker route to the beach. Franklin, who served as a town commissioner from 1892 to 1894, sold his half interest to Upshur in 1892 for $700, nearly tripling his initial investment.
George Upshur moved his family from Snow Hill to Baltimore in 1892, but kept close ties to Worcester County. Upshur maintained his beach cottage, which he and Sarah frequented often during the summer season, hobnobbing with the elite of Ocean City society. He was elected Mayor of Ocean City in 1896 following a bitterly contested campaign that pitted the “progressives” of Baltimore and Washington against a ticket of “locals” headed by Daniel Trimper, Sr., and Edward Hobbs, owner of the Eastern Shore Hotel. Upshur served a single two-year term.
In September 1903 Sarah Upshur fell ill during a stay at the cottage. She was transported to Baltimore by express train for medical care but her condition worsened and she died on September 14 at the age of 53. Following his wife’s death, George spent less time in Ocean City. He rented his cottage to friends and eventually sold the property in 1906 to Baltimorean Amelia Dieter. The sale price is not recorded.
Amelia Dieter operated a millinery shop in Baltimore, where she lived with her brother John, a traveling salesman, and her sister Louise, none of whom ever married. Amelia gave the former Upshur cottage the name “Le Nid”, French for “The Nest”. In 1935 Amelia, then 77, conveyed her interest to John and Louise. John died the following year, and in 1937 Louise sold the “Le Nid” to John and Louella Hagan, the owners of the neighboring lot 19.
The Philadelphia-based chemical company Harrison Brothers & Co. drew lot 19, on the corner of the Boardwalk and Caroline Street, at the stockholders’ meeting in 1875. The three brothers, John, George and Thomas, sold the undeveloped lot for $650 in 1894 to Belle P. Moore, the wife of John P. Moore, who was then Mayor of Snow Hill, and later a Maryland State Senator. John Moore and future Maryland Governor John Walter Smith were principals in the lumber firm Smith, Moore & Co. Moore’s biographical sketch published in the Maryland Manual in 1899 described him as “one of the wealthiest men of Worcester County.”
Mr. and Mrs. Moore built a large two and a half story “cottage” on the lot by 1895., which they dubbed the “Washington House”, although it was more commonly known simply as “Senator Moore’s cottage”. The Moores spent most of the summertime, when they weren’t traveling abroad, at their cottage in Ocean City, where they entertained friends and acquaintances. No doubt political deals were struck there as well.
Senator Moore died in 1918, and his widow Belle sold the property to Oscar M. Purnell in 1921. Purnell was an attorney from Snow Hill who was an active player in the Ocean City real estate market from the mid-1890s until his death in 1936. Purnell conveyed the “Senator Moore Cottage” to Lillian Duncan Purnell, the wife of the Ocean City Coast Guard station keeper William I. Purnell, in early 1922. Lillian chose the name “Maryland Inn” for her establishment, which she advertised that summer as providing “A-1 service”.
Lillian and William borrowed nearly $13,000 after the 1922 season to renovate and expand the Maryland Inn. Figure 1 provides a view of the building after the work was completed.
The Maryland Inn (lots 18 and 19) circa 1960.
Cindy Vollmerhausen collection.
Capt. Hagan’s fish camp in Ocean City was located in the oceanfront block between South 3rd Street and South 4th Street, an area that is now covered by the inlet. He was also a partner with John M. Mumford and Edwin J. Thomas in a second camp located two blocks farther west, on the west side of Philadelphia Avenue.
Pound fishing was a physically demanding and often dangerous occupation, as well as an ecologically devastating enterprise that resulted in overfishing and steadily declining hauls. At the urging of his wife, the former Louella C. Quillen, a local girl from Berlin, John decided to get out of the business. He sold his fish camp in 1924 to Rev. William C. Poole, an itinerant minister who had established the Methodist church in Ocean City in 1916. Rev. Poole also bought the second camp from John and his partners at the same time. John and Louella used the proceeds to buy their interest in the Maryland Inn.
William and Lillian Purnell sold their remaining interest in the Maryland Inn in 1928 to Hilda Bounds, the wife of George C. Bounds, a lumber wholesaler from Hebron, Maryland. John and Louella Hagan gained sole ownership of the Maryland Inn in 1929 by buying out Hilda Bounds’ interest.
Capt. and Mrs. Hagan undertook a major reconstruction and expansion of the Maryland Inn following the 1947 season. The “Le Nid” cottage on lot 18 was demolished and replaced by a new building similar in design to the one on lot 19, which was also extensively renovated at the same time.
Lot 20, which joins lot 19 on the south side of Caroline Street, has been used for the same purpose throughout the years as it is today: providing a parking area and means of ingress and egress for lots 18 and 19 on the Boardwalk. Philadelphia businessman Edward F. Fassitt drew the lot at the stockholders’ meeting in 1875. George M. Upshur, the owner of lot 18, and John P. Moore, the owner of lot 19, eventually purchased the lot jointly in 1899. Amelia Dieter acquired Upshur’s interest in 1906 and later purchased Moore’s interest in 1929. She and John Hagan evidently worked out an arrangement to share the lot, which Hagan bought from Louise Dieter in 1940.
Lot 35, the westernmost part of the Maryland Inn property on the south side of Caroline Street, was developed somewhat later than lots 18 and 19. The Delaware firm of William Lea & Sons drew the lot at the 1875 meeting, but did nothing with it. Amelia Dieter’s brother John bought the vacant lot in 1907 from William Lea’s heirs, and erected an architecturally undistinguished two-story cement block boarding house with a wide porch facing on Caroline Street that he called the “Belmar”.
The Fun City arcade, located on the former site of the Maryland Inn,
pictured in 2014.
Photo credit: Sandy Hurley.
Ralph Parsons, a railroad man who lived in Pittsville, and his wife Mary bought the boarding house from John Tubbs in 1925. Mr. and Mrs. Parsons operated the facility for nearly 20 years as the “Sea Breeze Hotel” before selling it in 1944 to Ironshire, Maryland shopkeeper Harold V. Quillen. Quillen sold out two years later to Claude and Edna Bassett, the owners of the Roosevelt Hotel on the Boardwalk at North Division Street, and the former owners of the Liberty Farms Hotel, later renamed “The Majestic”, on the Boardwalk at 7th Street. The Bassetts sold the much larger Roosevelt Hotel about six months later. Maryland Inn, Inc., the corporate entity created by John and Louella Hagan in 1955 to hold title to the Inn, bought the former Sea Breeze Hotel property from Mr. and Mrs. Bassett and other parties in 1961.
The Maryland Inn property
John Hagan died in 1960, a couple of years after he and Louella had celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Louella, who assumed the posts of president and general manager of Maryland Inn, Inc. following John’s death, passed away in 1963. The Hagans’ daughter Elizabeth took over the business, and in the fall of 1967 she arranged a sale of the Maryland Inn property to Harold Greenspan’s Jelar Corp. The purchase price was not disclosed but was probably between $250,000 and $300,000.
The new owner closed the oceanfront dining room and converted the boardwalk façade into retail shops before the start of the 1968 season. Mr. and Mrs. George Trageser were hired to run the Inn, which they described as a “family hotel”. The inn closed after the 1979 season and was torn down later that fall. A new cement block commercial building erected on the site is presently occupied by the Fun City arcade.
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