The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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Ocean City, Maryland - Then & Now LOTS 61 and 68 – “Coffin’s Bazaar”
Part One: 1875 – 1920
by Gordon E. Katz
May 2013

Coffin’s Bazaar”, owned and operated by Cornelius F. “Neil Coffin”, located on the south side of Wicomico Street at Baltimore Avenue ca. 1915.
Lots 61 and 68 are located on the south side of Wicomico Street, west of Baltimore Avenue. Lot 61, on the southwest corner of that intersection, was one of the first building lots to be developed in the earliest days of Ocean City. A map of Ocean City drawn up in 1877 shows a structure had been erected on the site by that time.

Salisbury merchants Humphreys & Tilghman drew lot 61 at the special stockholders’ meeting of the Atlantic Hotel Company held on August 31, 1875. Somerset County farmer John W. K. Phoebus drew lot 68. Phoebus sold his lot shortly afterward to Phillip and Euphemia Smith from Baltimore. There is no evidence that either Phoebus or the Smith couple improved the property during their ownership.

As noted, lot 61 had been improved by 1877. A report in The Baltimore Sun published on August 16, 1876 noted, “A drug store which sells fancy articles and a confectionery store which sells miscellaneous notions have been established, and are doing a good business.” The stores were likely housed within the same building situated on lot 61. The building, however, was probably not erected by Humphreys & Tilghman, but rather by a Worcester County dry goods purveyor named Neil Coffin. That conjecture is supported by the fact that the Salisbury firm conveyed the title to lot 61 to Coffin in 1880 for $125, a price which certainly does not reflect the cost of the improvements made to the property.

Neil Coffin (1854 – 1920), whose full name was Isaac Cornelius F. Coffin, was the oldest son of Isaac Coffin, the Worcester County farmer who in 1869 opened the first overnight lodging establishment on Sinepuxent Beach, a small boardinghouse that he built on a parcel of land that is now the southwest corner of the Boardwalk and S. 1st St. Neil opened his first dry goods store in 1875, adjoining the shop of Mary A. Powell on the Sinepuxent Road near St. Catherine’s Church. He closed that store in 1877, presumably because he sensed there was a better business opportunity in the new resort town of Ocean City.

In 1877, along with his brother-in-law Levin D. Lynch, Neil Coffin took over his father’s boardinghouse on the beach, which the two men called “Ocean House”. Neil and Lynch parted company after a year, and in 1879 Neil purchased the smaller “Ayres Cottage”, which was located just to the south of Ocean House, from another brother-in-law, John J. Ayres.

When Neil’s parents, Isaac and Amanda Coffin, decided to sell one of their farms in Worcester County in 1881 and move south to Chincoteague, Virginia, Neil went with them. The arrangements that Neil made to continue operating his store in Ocean City aren’t known, but one possibility is that he returned to town specifically for that purpose during the summer season. During his time in Chincoteague, he sold his other Ocean City property, the “Ayres Cottage”, in 1885.

One of the postcards published by C. F. “Neil” Coffin in 1904. (Cindy Vollmerhausen collection)
Isaac Coffin died in 1892 and Neil returned with his mother to Worcester County that year. He added to his store property in Ocean City by purchasing the adjoining lot 68 from the Smiths. Neil also acquired several other building lots scattered throughout downtown Ocean City over the next few years, but remained focused primarily on his store on Wicomico Street, which he called “Coffin’s Bazaar”.

After completing a major renovation and expansion prior to the 1900 season, The Sun declared on June 11 that “the new drug store and the transformation of Coffin’s popular store and his former residence into a new and beautiful establishment are worthy of mention.” The curio and novelty store occupied the northerly portion of lots 61 and 68 (fronting on Wicomico Street). Neil permitted his brother-in-law James Z. Powell to build a structure on the southerly portion of lot 61 (fronting on Baltimore Avenue) that housed the town’s post office during Powell’s tenure as postmaster from 1897 to 1905.

Among the novelties stocked in Coffin’s Bazaar were picture postcards. Neil Coffin published the first series of postcards featuring views of Ocean City in 1904. Emblazoned with the familiar salutation “Greetings from Ocean City, Md.”, the cards showed such familiar sights as the Atlantic Hotel and the Dunton Cottages (on Dorchester Street).

Neil Coffin never married, and he lived alone for most of his life. As he grew older, his widowed sisters, Mary E. Powell and Amelia Lankford, were frequent house guests. Neil died on November 22, 1920, and in his will he left his entire estate, including “Coffin’s Bazaar” to Amelia.

Part Two, 1920 – Present, will appear in the next edition of Scuttlebutt.

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