Ocean City, Maryland - Then & Now Lots 40 and 47
Ella Phillips Dennis circa 1950
“Fifty years ago Mrs. Dennis was told that there was little chance of her living long. She weighed only 83 pounds, and some people thought that a breeze was likely to carry her off any day.
Through some quirk of fate, the thought of cool sea breezes lured Mrs. Dennis to Ocean City, Md. She deliberately sought that salt air here. That was back in 1890 when Ocean City was only a tiny fishing village, close to lovely old towns on Maryland’s Eastern Shore …
According to Mrs. Dennis, the good salt air went to work on her at once. Within a few months she gained 53 pounds. Take her word for it, the air was largely responsible.
Today this gracious old lady is hale and active at 80 years of age. She manages her own hotel. She feels confident that the tonic air here is going to keep her well and active for a good many more years.”
The exact year that Ella and Reverdy Dennis first came to Ocean City from their home town of Newark, Maryland isn’t documented. However, we do know that on June 2, 1894 Ella attended a public auction for a lot in Ocean City on which the owner had failed to pay tax assessments for 1893 and 1894. Ella placed the high bid of $55 for lot 80, located about midway between Baltimore Avenue and Philadelphia Avenue on the north side of Talbot Street. They did not build on the lot right away.
In January 1896 Reverdy Dennis purchased the northerly half of lot 47, on the southeast corner of Baltimore Avenue and Dorchester Street, from Berlin contractor David J. Adkins. Adkins had already erected a structure on the southerly half of the lot that housed a general store and a feed store, which Reverdy probably operated. Reverdy built his own store on his portion of the lot, as well as a boarding house on the lot on Talbot Street that he and Ella simply called “The Dennis” when it opened for the summer of 1898.
While Reverdy tended to his store, Ella was in charge of “The Dennis”. She advertised it as providing “home comforts”, an “excellent table” and having an “unobstructed view of the ocean and bay”, all of which would cost a summer visitor $6 to $8 per week. By 1905 the “very comfortable” establishment with “sanitary plumbing” was “open all the year”. Reverdy also took an active role in local politics, serving on the city council from 1898 to 1900, and again from 1902 to 1906.
Reverdy expanded his operation in 1899 by purchasing the neighboring lot 40 on the south side of Dorchester Street, which joined the eastern boundary of his store property, and again in 1903 when he bought the rest of lot 47 from David Adkins. The Dennis family’s lives were unfortunately marred during the latter year by the death of their daughter Bessie at the age of 23. Bessie had married William B. S. Powell, who was employed by the U.S. Life-Saving Service, three years earlier. The couple’s only child, Mary Elizabeth, remained close to the Dennis family throughout her life, even after her father remarried in 1905.
A 1930s view of “The Dennis” hotel in Ocean City
The southeast corner of Baltimore Avenue and Dorchester Street as it appears today
Photo credit Cynthia Vollmerhausen
The storefronts in the building on the southern part of lot 47 along Baltimore Avenue housed various enterprises. A map of Ocean City dated August, 1921 shows that the building was shared by a restaurant and a grocery store. The grocery store later moved into the restaurant space, which was then rented to the U.S. Post Office Department and served as the town’s post office from 1922 until 1936.
The couple made other investments in Ocean City as well. Between 1915 and 1922 Ella Dennis purchased four of the building lots on the east side of Baltimore Avenue and south side of 6th Street. She subdivided the four lots into five, and gave one to each of her children.
“The Dennis” remained in the Dennis family until 1966. Reverdy Dennis died in 1937, devising his interest in the property to his wife Ella for her natural life, and then to his children. After Ella passed away in 1952, the surviving heirs continued to operate the hotel through the 1965 season.
On May 10, 1966 “The Dennis” property was conveyed to the Mayor and City Council of Ocean City. The town razed the old building and paved the two lots for municipal parking.
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