Railway Brings Travelers
Trains Are Main Link To Resort In The Early Years
However, getting to Ocean City wasn't always that easy. When Ocean City officially became a town in 1875, getting to the small seaside community took careful planning and many hours.
The trip would begin by leaving Baltimore by one of the steamboats which would wind through the waterways until reaching the railroad yards of the Wicomico and Pocomoke Railroad in Salisbury. From Salisbury, the visitors would ride one of the wood-burning trains to the shores of the Sinepuxent Bay in West Ocean City.
The all-day journey would finally end after the visitors crossed the bay by ferry or small boats to Ocean City. In 1876, a wooden railroad bridge was built over the Sinepuxent Bay. The bridge entered the town at South Division Street and ran up to a depot on Baltimore Avenue. When trains were not using the bridge, planks were placed in between the ties which allowed walkers, horses and buggies to cross the bridge.
The rail system was instrumental to the success of Ocean City. Prior to the completion of the railroad bridge, only a handful of people visited the town. After the bridge was built, just the railroad alone would carry about 3,000 visitors each summer to the town. No one knows just how many people walked or rode across the bridge on horses and buggies. And until the first automobile bridge was built, cars also used the railroad bridge.
It was not unusual to have back-ups at the bridge, as traffic was allowed to travel in only one direction at a time. Therefore, everyone had to wait their turn to cross.
By the turn-of-the-century, the rail line to Ocean City had been purchased by the Baltimore, Chesapeake and Atlantic (B.C. & A) Railway. The new railroad used steam engines instead of wood-burners. In time, the railroad became known as the "Black Cinders and Ashes" railroad as passengers would often get soot on their clothing from the black smoke and cinders that spewed out of the locomotive's stack.
Vacationers no longer had to ride a steamboat from Baltimore to Salisbury to catch the train as the rail line had been extended west to Clairbourne in Talbot County. A steamboat, the Cambridge, transported passengers across the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore to the train station in Clairbourne. This ride across the bay took about two hours.
Once the steamer reached the train station at Clairbourne, travelers would ride either the Lem Showell or the Baltimore Flyer all the way to Ocean City. Depending on the number of stops made along the way, the train ride to Ocean City took about two or three hours.
Although it was an ordeal, people would pack a big lunch and try to enjoy themselves. The journey to the beach was almost as much fun as a day at the beach.
In 1916, Ocean City's first car bridge was built. The bridge entered the town at Worcester Street. Automobile soon replaced the train as the favorite mode of transportation to Ocean City. When the storm of 1933 destroyed the town's railroad bridge, there was not enough demand for train transportation to rebuild the bridge.
Traveling to the resort by automobile was definitely more comfortable and less time consuming. However, the trip still needed careful planning. Visitors to Ocean City could take an auto route through Cecil County via Elkton or they could cross the Chesapeake Bay by ferry to the Eastern Shore.
Three ferries regularly crossed the Chesapeake Bay. The trip across the bay took forty minutes to two hours depending on which route was taken. Travelers, who wanted to take the quickest and shortest route, rode on the Harry W. Nice. This ferry carried fifty cars.
Ferry travel was very popular among those heading for Ocean City and other Eastern Shore destinations. Ferry travel came to an end when the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (William Preston Lane Memorial Bridge) was built in 1952. Vacationers from Washington, D.C. and Baltimore could "reach the beach" in just a few hours. Prior to the completion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, businesses in Ocean City could expect about 5,000 visitors on a busy summer weekend. Within 10 years after the bridge was built, the number of people visiting the resort grew to 100,000 a weekend.
A second span had to be built in 1973 to accommodate the large volume of traffic heading for the Eastern Shore. Today, many of the 300,000 vacationers in Ocean City use the Chesapeake Bay Bridge each week during the summer months.
Over the years, transportation to Ocean City has changed with the times. Although many people feel these changes were for the best, there are others who long for the days when going to Ocean City meant a ride on the Baltimore Flyer.