Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum
A Local Perspective
by Amanda Esham Cropper
April 2015


Lester Esham (the authors father) at Esham's Dairy Farm circa 1940
Philadelphia Avenue and 8th Street

The property at 8th Street and Philadelphia Avenue was purchased in the early 1920s by my grandfather, John D. Ayres. This is where the Midway Shopping Center is now located. The property began as a parking garage, called The Lankford Parking Garage. Back in the day, visitors didn’t want their cars sitting out in the salt air, so they rented space in one of what I believe were three parking garages in Ocean City. The property went from Wilmington Lane (or “the alley”, as we always called it) to Philadelphia Avenue. Just to the south of the garage, and adjacent to that property, my parents, Lester and Ethel Esham, built the Ocean City Dairy. They bought raw milk from farmers in Berlin and surrounding areas, brought it to the dairy and pasteurized and bottled it for delivery to homes, rooming houses and hotels. As well as the white milk there was the most glorious chocolate milk and whipping cream. Dad, unbeknownst to Mom, I’m sure, would let me have great spoonfuls of the whipped cream. During the war, German soldiers would be brought to the dairy by American GIs to work at the dairy.

Tragically, in April of 1942 Grandfather Ayres caught fire while tending a trash fire on the property; and died from his injuries.

In 1952 the dairy was leased to Koontz Creamery, but this was fairly short-lived. Also in that year, Mom and Dad converted the garage into the shopping center. Mr. Frank Sacca, a dear friend of my Dad, was the leader of the orchestra that played every Sunday night at the band shell on the beach at Somerset Street. Dad was a trombonist and my brother Jack was the percussionist in that orchestra. Mr. Sacca lamented to his family that poor Lester was building this shopping center way up on 8th Street, and who in the world was going to travel that far up the beach to shop.

After the Koontz company left, Mom and Dad converted the dairy into the Jahlee Apartments. The name is derived from all the members of our immediate family – Jack, Amanda, Hannah, Lester, and Ethel Esham – and was Mom’s creation. My brother and his wife, Jack and Lolly Esham, eventually bought the apartments from Mom and Dad, and they and some of their children make this their home.

In about 1968, my then husband and I bought the shopping center from Mom and Dad. After five years, we bought the property just to the south, and extended the shopping center by two more stores. A couple of years later, we also bought the property across the street, on the west side of Philadelphia Avenue, from the Benjamin family, and have used that as the parking lot for the shopping center.

Bailey’s drug store was always in the shopping center, with Halcolm Bailey being the pharmacist. Originally there was a soda fountain on the north wall, presided over by Grace Parker of “The Grace Parker Breakfast” fame at the Presbyterian Church. Brit’s market with Lester Brittingham was a gathering place for some of the local men, my Dad among them. I think brown liquor was involved in the late afternoons. Dave Lankford was the butcher and Cottontop Hudson was the man of all other things.

Next was The Garland Lane Shop. Garland sold the most wonderful clothes and accessories, and was the high water mark for glamour. Then there was Hooks Bakery. Mr. Hooks only had the bakery open in the summertime. The fragrance that came from that bakery in the early morning would make you swoon. There may have been a laundromat, but I’m drawing a blank on that one. The southernmost store was the Plantation Restaurant, run by the Cowger family from Pocomoke, which was also only open in the summer. I had my first, but not last, scrapple and egg sandwich there.