OCEAN CITY, MARYLAND – THEN & NOW LOTS 34 and 37
The Isle of Wight Cottages” and the “Mount Vernon Hotel”
The Mount Vernon Hotel and annex ca. 1910.
Courtesy of Bunk Mann
Anna was the wife of Lemuel Showell, III, the man who spearheaded the formation of the Atlantic Hotel Company in the early 1870s and the opening of the Atlantic Hotel on July 4, 1875. A wealthy man at that time, he was forced into bankruptcy in 1887 and left penniless. Anna, however, held on to her property, including land holdings in North Carolina passed on to her by her father, Curtis Washington Jacobs. Anna purchased the two lots on Talbot Street for a total of $100, and then borrowed $2,000 from Baltimore real estate developer Daniel W. Cameron to finance construction of a boarding house on the site. She called it the “Isle of Wight Cottage”, most likely because Lemuel had pushed hard to name the Maryland resort “Isle of Wight City” rather than “Ocean City”.
The Isle of Wight Cottage was opened to guests in the late summer of 1891. An advertisement placed in The Baltimore Sun on September 26, 1891, pitched the cottage’s attractions: “OPEN ALL THE YEAR. Accommodations First Class. Terms Moderate. This is the season for shooting and fishing. Drum fishing on the beach. Duck and quail shooting in season.” Anna Showell has the distinction of being the first woman to build and operate a lodging establishment in Ocean City, a trend that would continue and grow over the next thirty years.
The Sanborn-Perris Map Company of Ocean City prepared in September 1897 shows three buildings situated on lots 34 and 37: the two-story main building identified as the “Isle of Wight Hotel”, occupying most of lot 34 and a part of lot 37, with a dining room and parlors on the first floor; a two or three-story building west of the main building (later called the “annex”), with a sitting room and office on the first floor; and a two-story building with attic labeled “kitchen” directly behind the two structures that fronted on Talbot Street. The latter two buildings were added around 1894. The main building and annex, variously called the “Isle of Wight Cottages” or “Hotel” or “House”, reportedly accommodated up to 75 guests.
There is a local urban legend regarding the annex that has persisted for years. The story goes that a later owner of the property, John Dale Showell, Sr., built the annex after George and Susie Rounds developed the Avondale Hotel next door in 1915. Mr. Showell was supposedly angry that the Avondale blocked his guests' view of the bay, so he allegedly built the annex to prevent the Avondale's guests from having an ocean view. Consequently, the annex came to be called the “Spite House” by local residents. Although untrue, the story has managed to stick around.
Anna and Lemuel defaulted on their mortgage after the 1896 season. William Sidney Wilson, a Snow Hill attorney and former Mayor of Ocean City, conducted a public sale of their property, including the Isle of Wight Cottages and three other properties the Showells owned along Talbot Street, on April 19, 1897. John T. Ensor, a Baltimore real estate investor, was the high bidder for the Cottages property. Ensor engaged a series of managers over the next few years to operate the hostelry, but the operation was not a financial success. Perhaps thinking that a new name would attract more guests, he affixed the moniker “Mount Vernon Hotel” to the former Isle of Wight Cottages/Hotel/House in 1903. In the spring of 1904 Ensor put the hotel up for sale.
The former Mount Vernon Hotel, now operating as A. T. Lantic's Food & Spirits, and the annex in the 1990s.
From the Ocean City Museum Society archives.
Elizabeth Strohecker was an active businesswoman in Ocean City. She was already operating two boarding houses on Baltimore Avenue at 5th Street when her parents turned over the operation of the Mount Vernon Hotel to her in 1923. After her father passed away in 1947, Elizabeth and her brother, John Dale Showell, Jr., assumed control of the family’s businesses in the “Showell Block”, which occupied most of the boardwalk block from Caroline Street to North Division Street. She leased the Mount Vernon to various operators during her half century of ownership. One of those operators, Mary B. Clogg from the Hamilton section of Baltimore, marketed the hotel as “The Tides” from 1945 to 1954.
Elizabeth sold the Mount Vernon to Kathryn Jones Brasher (later known as Kate Bunting) in 1973. The Art League of Ocean City opened its “Art and Cultural Center” in the old hotel in the spring of 1977. Following the Art League’s move across the street to the Talbot Street Café, Mrs. Bunting redeveloped the hotel in 1981 into a restaurant, “Kate Bunting’s Seafood House”, described this way in an advertisement from 1986: “Oldest hotel in Ocean City converted into a crab house with outside patio for steamed crabs and inside dining featuring seafood, steaks and chicken.” The hotel annex, which Mrs. Bunting rented out for shops, was briefly converted in the summer of 1984 into a newspaper office for the filming of “Violets Are Blue”, starring Sissy Spacek and Kevin Kline. A new restaurant, A. T. Lantic’s Food & Spirits, moved into the former hotel in 1990, operating there for about four years.
Mrs. Bunting transferred the Mount Vernon, along with other properties she owned along Talbot and Dorchester Streets, to the Kate Bunting Family Partnership in 1995. After Mrs. Bunting’s death in 1997, the family eventually decided to redevelop most of the properties held by the partnership as the “Belmont Towers” condominium. Construction of the nine-story building was completed in 2007. As part of the overall development plan, the more than a century old Mount Vernon Hotel and annex situated across the street from the new condominium were torn down in 2005.
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