St Paul’s By-The-Sea Episcopal Church
An Episcopal Ministry in Ocean City, Maryland
It's likely that many visitors to Ocean City barely notice the wood-shingled church building called St. Paul's By-The-Sea, tucked away on the corner of Baltimore Avenue and 3rd Street amid the jumble of hotels, motels, condos, bars and T-shirt shops. For those who take the time to worship or visit there, climbing the staircase fronting on 3rd Street leads to a small vestibule in the bell tower. Stepping inside, the visitor finds red-carpeted aisles separating rows of wooden pews. The sanctuary faces east, drawing the morning light through the stained glass windows that frame the altar. It is in this place that St. Paul's continues a ministry that dates to the earliest days of Ocean City.
Rev. Henry C. Lay, Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Easton, was one of the early visitors to the resort, which had opened on July 4, 1875. But he apparently didn't travel to Ocean City simply to enjoy a summer retreat at the beach. The Baltimore Sun reported that on Sunday, August 12, 1877, Bishop Lay ?preached twice ? to large and delighted audiences in the parlor of the Atlantic Hotel?. It was the first record of religious services conducted in Ocean City. A couple of weeks later, The Sun noted that Stephen Taber, the wealthy Long Island businessman who owned thousands of acres on Sinepuxent Beach along with farmland on the western shore, had donated ?one of his most eligible lots at Ocean City? to Bishop Lay ?for the erection thereon of an Episcopal church, which will be erected before the next bathing season sets in.? According to the deed (recorded on October 18, 1880), the lot was on the northeast corner of Baltimore Avenue and North 1st Street. A reversion clause stated that the building had to be erected within two years or the lot would have to be returned to Mr. Taber.
Despite the optimism expressed by The Sun reporter in 1877, an Episcopal church was not built prior to the summer of 1878. Worship services that year were again held in the parlor of the Atlantic Hotel, conducted by Bishop Lay whenever he was in town and by other ministers when he was unavailable. The cottage owned by George Goldsborough, on the southwest corner of Baltimore Avenue and Caroline Street, served as a siteorary rectory. The Sun reported that the Bishop ?has in consitelation the erection at an early day of a pretty church edifice, the plan not as yet being finally determined.?
A benefactor emerged by 1880 in the person of Col. William B. R. Selby who finally enabled Bishop Lay's project to move forward. Col. Selby was a native of Worcester County whose business interests had taken him to Philadelphia. He had purchased a 550 acre farm near Berlin from fellow Philadelphian Moses T. Johnson in 1873, and was listed among the patrons of the 1877 ?Atlas of the Eastern Shore? as a ?gentleman of leisure?. Selby was one of the original investors in the Atlantic Hotel Company, and owned a choice lot on the beach between Dorchester and Talbot Streets, along with more than three hundred acres of beach property south of Ocean City. He bought the ?Ocean House? in 1879, a small hostelry located on the beach between what are now South 1st and South 2nd Streets. After extensively expanding and renovating the property, Selby reopened it for the 1880 season under the new name ?Congress Hall?. He was also energetically involved in the effort to establish an Episcopal church in the fledgling resort town.
It was likely Col. Selby who convinced Bishop Lay not to build a church on the lot originally donated by Stephen Taber, probably because it was too far removed from the few hotels and cottages in town. Taber agreed in 1880 to donate a different parcel to the Easton diocese, one that was next to other property owned by Selby on the west side of Baltimore Avenue between South 1st and South 2nd Streets, directly behind Congress Hall. The lot on North1st Street was formally conveyed back to Taber in 1885.
Construction of the new Episcopal chapel, which was to be called ?St. Paul's By-The-Sea?, began in the spring of 1881, and the cornerstone was laid in a ceremony held on July 28. As work progressed, services continued at both the Atlantic Hotel as well as Congress Hall. The new church opened on Sunday, July 16, 1882, with Bishop Lay fittingly presiding, even though interior work was not yet completed and siteorary seating for the congregation had to be brought in. A choir was assembled for the occasion from among the guests and musicians of the Atlantic Hotel and Congress Hall. An organizational meeting was held later that day to elect trustees and officers. The seven persons chosen as trustees were Col. Selby, who was also appointed secretary and treasurer, J. A. Fields and L. E. Ballard, also appointed wardens, and Eugene Carrington, Wilmer Purnell, R. Q. Taylor and B. F. Henry. Bishop Lay committed to ?designate clergymen for the services of this chapel, so that it will be opened regularly on every Sunday throughout the season.?
The two men who were most instrumental in bringing an Episcopal house of worship to Ocean City, Bishop Lay and Col. Selby, both passed away in 1885. The congregation, though, continued to grow, and Mr. J. A. Fields, one of the wardens, became ?one of the most active of the vestry of that parish.? Fields was one of the lay representatives from Worcester County who attended the annual convention of the Easton diocese in 1886, which considered among other matters the selection of a successor to the late Bishop Lay. In 1892 Fields was actively lobbying the diocese to assign a rector for St. Paul's who would remain for the entire summer season. That change, however, would not occur until some years later.
By the late 1890s, church leaders felt that the ?old church [was] on an undesirable lot?, its location at the southern end of town now considered distanced from the development that had taken place farther north. Rev. J. Gibson Gantt, rector of the Worcester Parish which included St. Paul's, began looking for a better location on which to build a new church. His search ended in July 1899 when Mr. and Mrs. John Waggaman of Washington, D.C. presented the rector with two lots on the northeast corner of Baltimore Avenue and North 3rd Street. Waggaman was a major property owner in Ocean City who had been responsible for initiating many of the improvements that had spurred the town's growth and development during the 1890s, and he later served a brief term as Mayor (1902 ? 1903). Mrs. Waggaman led the subscriptions committee, which also included Mrs. John Showell, owner of the ?Ocean Swell? cottages, Miss Emilie Dougherty, Edward Ijams, who managed the Plimhimmon Hotel, Edward Scott, the railroad station agent, and Rev. Gantt. Robert Showell and L. L. Dirickson, Jr. along with Mr. Scott comprised the building committee. The old church building and lot were to be sold as part of the fundraising effort. The Sun reported in September 1899 that Rev. Gantt ?has been eminently successful in getting the interest of Episcopalians of the cities centered on his proposed new church ? and will soon give out the contract for a large and costly building near the ocean front.?
Work on the foundation and pilings for the new church building, which measured 70? by 35? with an attached parish room, commenced in May 1900. Rosalie Shreve, owner of the Plimhimmon Hotel, provided the hotel's casino at 1st Street on the Boardwalk for Sunday services until construction was completed. The cornerstone for the church was laid on June 7 in a ceremony attended by the delegates to the recently concluded annual convention of the Easton diocese, held that year in nearby Berlin. They were joined by 'several hundred other persons?. The Sun captured the moment this way:
Bishop Adams [of the Easton diocese], the clergymen and the choir were habited in their vestments. The large gathering of visitors under the blue sky and by the blue ocean made an impressive scene. Bishop Adams caught the inspiration of the moment and made an address which was thrillingly eloquent.
Meanwhile, the effort to raise the money to pay for the new church continued. In July 1900, an agreement was struck to sell the old church and lot for $475 to Capt. Christopher Ludlam, who had established the pound fishing business in Ocean City in 1897. A resolution adopted on August 18 gave final approval for the transaction. Capt. Ludlam moved the church building in September to a parcel he owned on the southeast corner of Baltimore Avenue and S. 2nd Street, and began construction of a residence on the now vacant lot. The old church may have been converted for use as a cold storage facility for the daily fish hauls from Ludlam?s pound nets. Given that the site to which it was relocated is now in the inlet, the building, if it was still standing then, was likely damaged or destroyed by the 1933 storm responsible for the inlet?s existence. The residence that Capt. Ludlam built on the former church property subsequently changed hands a number of times; since 1987 it has been the home of Adolfo?s Italian Restaurant.
Other fundraising events also took place during the summer of 1900. The Sun reported that on the evening of July 20:
A festival and musical entertainment for the new St. Paul?s Church by the Sea, held at the Plimhimmon, was attended by large crowds and it was a financial success. The Plimhimmon was beautifully illuminated. The managers had also tastefully decorated the broad piazzas with lanterns and flags.
Another such event was held two weeks later on August 1, again at the Plimhimmon, featuring ?the living pictures, after the celebrated artist Gibson, and the readings by Frank E. Short, of the Frohman dramatic forces.? And on Friday night, August 17, a group of boys and girls, directed by a Professor Solmson from Baltimore, presented a program consisting of ?a unique drill, fancy dancing and cakewalk, interspersed with instrumental solos, quartets and duos.? By the end of the summer, sufficient funds had been raised to begin construction of the new church building on 3rd Street. Work had been nearly completed by the following February, and the first service in the new St. Paul?s By-The-Sea Episcopal Church were held on July 7, 1901, even though ?its interior is unfurnished and unfinished.? A formal consecration service took place on July 28, 1903, with Bishop Adams preaching the sermon.
Construction of a rectory on 3rd Street next to the church was completed in 1913. St. Paul?s remained a mission church within the Worcester Parish until 1921, when the congregation was recognized by the diocese as its own parish and granted permission to elect its own vestry. Rev. Edmund Burk was appointed as the first rector for the newly formed parish. The men listed below, including members of some well-known Ocean City families, were chosen to serve on the vestry:
Charles A. Parker
George W. Parker
L. Franklin Purnell
William I. Purnell
Edward W. Scott
Francis J. Townsend
Daniel Trimper, Jr.
William T. Turner
John P. Whaley
The church property on 3rd Street was transferred to the new St. Paul?s By-The-Sea parish by a deed dated October 31, 1921. Charles Parker, one of the vestrymen, provided the parish with a working capital loan in December. A new rectory was built on Baltimore Avenue in 1923.
The parish was not fully self-supporting until 1941. Rev. William L. Dewees arrived in Ocean City from Philadelphia in April of that year as the new rector at St. Paul?s. Rev. Dewees and his wife Ellen quickly became active members of the community, with Mrs. Dewees taking a particular interest in cultural activities. Her interest led the Senior Guild of St. Paul?s to sponsor an antiques show, held on August 1 ? 3, 1945 in the ballroom of the Atlantic Hotel. The show turned into an annual fundraising event for the church. It was moved in 1962 to the elementary school on 3rd Street, across Baltimore Avenue from the church, in order to accommodate a larger numbers of dealers and exhibits, and then moved again in 1972 to the new Convention Hall on 40th Street. Now known as ?Antiques-By-The-Sea?, it is one of the longest-running annual shows of its kind in the country.
St. Paul?s sponsored a different kind of cultural event in 1961, backing the Oceanside Players in their presentation of the Broadway comedy ?The Solid Gold Cadillac?. The show, directed by Gary S. Naylor, was staged on the nights of March 2 and 3 in the auditorium of the Elementary School. Summer stock theater had been introduced to Ocean City in 1957 with the advent of the Lighthouse Players? weekly shows, which were also presented at the Elementary School, but this was the first off-season theatrical production. The troupe received favorable reviews for their performances, and met later that month to organize a theater company, with Daniel Trimper IV chosen as the president and Mrs. Dewees joining the board of directors. Another show was promised for the fall; however, it?s unclear whether it took place or how long the Oceanside Players actually performed together.
The historic church survived several brushes with disaster in the 1960s. The ?perfect storm? of March 6 ? 8, 1962 inundated Ocean City with floodwaters and tons of sand, forcing many residents to be evacuated by boat, including Rev. and Mrs. Dewees from the rectory on 3rd Street. The church survived the storm, although basement rooms sustained water damage and were buried under up to three feet of sand. Later that year, during the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 21, a fire broke out at the Plimhimmon Hotel, located on the Boardwalk between 2nd and 3rd Streets. Firefighters struggled to bring the blaze under control, considering at one point intentionally starting a back fire among the nearby buildings, including St. Paul?s. Volunteers from the congregation scrambled to remove valuable artifacts from the church. The firemen eventually gained the upper hand and St. Paul?s was spared, but it had been a close call. Mayor Hugh Cropper was quoted as saying, ?I wouldn?t have given five cents for the rest of the property in the next couple of blocks. I thought that a good deal of this town would go up in flames.? St. Paul?s was again threatened by fire in 1969 when The Hamilton, its next door neighbor on the corner of 3rd Street and the Boardwalk, burned down on Sunday, December 14. Over one hundred firefighters responded to the scene, and their quick action, along with favorable winds and accompanying rain showers, prevented the fire from spreading to the surrounding buildings and Boardwalk. The fire was later determined to be an act of arson, one of several such incidents that occurred that year. No arrests were ever made.
The town of Ocean City formally annexed North Ocean City on January 26, 1965, extending the town?s borders from 41st Street all the way north to the Delaware state line. But even before the annexation and the construction boom that it spawned, the North Ocean City area had already experienced a growth spurt, due in large part to the development activities of James Caine and ventures such as Bobby Baker?s Carousel Hotel. Rev. Dewees saw a need to expand the ministry of St. Paul?s to this growing area, which had no churches and whose residents were reluctant to drive to the established churches downtown due to traffic and parking issues on Sunday morning. Rev. Dewees eventually found a suitable lot on which to build a mission church in North Ocean City, and in February 1965 developer Caine and others donated a parcel on the west side of Coastal Highway at 100th Street to St. Paul?s Parish on which to build its new church.
Mr. Floyd E. Warriner of Baltimore provided space in an empty storefront on Coastal Highway and 72nd Street next to the Ocean Lanes Bowling facility for a temporary chapel while the new church was being built. The altar and altar cross from the original church building located behind Congress Hall were taken out of storage and moved to the makeshift worship facility. An organ donated by St. Paul?s organist Jack Caldwell, a gift made in anticipation of a new church being established in North Ocean City, was also installed. A dedication ceremony for the chapel was held on Saturday night, July 22, 1967 and the first worship services were conducted there the next day. Construction of the new Chapel of the Holy Spirit at 100th Street was completed the following year. Rev. Dewees presided at the first worship services on June 23, 1968. The church called its first vicar and began offering year-round worship services in 1985, and became a self-supporting parish within the Easton diocese in 1991. The new North Ocean City Parish acquired the church building and lot from St. Paul?s in July of that year, renaming it the Church of the Holy Spirit.
Rev. Dewees retired in 1973 after more than thirty-one years of service to St. Paul?s and the greater Ocean City area. The old rectory on 3rd Street was torn down that year, and replaced by a modern parish hall. After undergoing renovations in 1993, the congregation of St. Paul?s renamed the facility Dewees Hall to honor the many contributions made by Rev. and Mrs. Dewees during their tenure in Ocean City. A new rectory was purchased in 1994 in West Ocean City, and the former rectory on Baltimore Avenue now serves as the parish offices.
St. Paul?s By-The-Sea has been led since 2005 by Rev. David A. Dingwall. The church?s energetic ministry in Ocean City to members, visitors and those in need in the community at large is unequivocally enunciated in its mission statement:
?Building a faithful people of God. Get connected!?
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