OC History

The Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum, seen from the south side of the building.

1937 Was A Very Good Year In Ocean City

The undefeated 1937 Ocean City Baseball Team

Roster of the 1937 Ocean City Baseball Team is taped to the back of the photo.

Most people start a history at the beginning, and Ocean City dates to 1875. This history will start in the middle, at 1937, and then follow the story at random.  It was the latter part of the Great Depression, with war clouds on the horizon in Europe. Nonetheless, fortune smiled on Ocean City, Maryland, in 1937.

What better place to start than with the famous undefeated Ocean City baseball team of 1937?
The roster included several young men who would go on to be leaders in Ocean City. Harry Kelly, an outfielder, became mayor of Ocean City. Alfred Harmon, also an outfielder, served for 13 years as fire chief of the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Department, and was for many years manager of Edwards 5 & 10 on the Boardwalk. (By coincidence, 1937 was the first year in Ocean City for the Edwards store.)

How good was this undefeated team? Two of the players, outfielder John Sacca, and first-baseman Bob Conner Sr., had one-day tryouts with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Thanks to Bob Conner, Jr., for making the photo available.

Business Development in Ocean City

1937 was also the year that two of Ocean City’s signature businesses opened their doors for business. Edwards 5 & 10, still in business under different ownership, but at the same location after all these years, on the Boardwalk at North Division Street.  I have some first-hand knowledge of Edwards 5 & 10, because I worked there in the 1970s, so I will probably write more about Edwards later.  Also opening in 1937, Candy Kitchen, which now has stores practically everywhere you look in Ocean City.

Edwards 2candy kitCan you imagine a businessman having the guts to open a new business in what was hardly more than a small fishing village on a sand bar at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, during the Great Depression? What were those guys thinking? They must have had good business judgment, because both Edwards and Candy Kitchen survived the Depression and the World War that followed. And they survived everything else, and are still thriving in 2010. Talk about standing the test of time!

A Hinge in History: The 1933 Storm and the Inlet

If I had to select only one year from the history of Ocean City, 1875 to present . . . I would have to say that 1933 was a pivotal year.  In 1933, the Ocean City Inlet was cut by high tides associated with a big Nor’Easter.  Ocean City was forever separated from Assateague Island, and the inlet allowed entry to a safe harbor in West Ocean City. Young men were immediately put to work building big rock jetties to keep the inlet open. The harbor enabled the growth of the commercial fishing industry and the sport fishing tourist business. Without the 1933 storm and the inlet, Ocean City could not have become The White Marlin Capital of the World.

The history of modern Ocean City started in 1933. It is probably not a coincidence that Ocean City saw a flurry of business growth in the years following the opening of the inlet. The inlet was a game changer.

The Route 50 Bridge, 1942, and World War II

Bridges were also crucial in the development of Ocean City.  The Route 50 Bridge (The Harry Kelly Memorial Bridge) was built in 1942, not quite a decade after the inlet. The bridge had two lanes in each direction. It replaced the old railroad bridge which had brought the first summer visitors into the resort. The era of the railroad was giving way to the era of the automobile. The Route 50 bridge remains one of three arteries into the resort to this day.

It is interesting to consider that the Route 50 bridge was built in 1942, in the middle of World War II. I don’t know anything about the planning and construction of the bridge. But it seems unlikely that government would undertake such a project in wartime to serve a small beach resort. I can only think that the Route 50 bridge was built not for tourism but for coastal defense. Everyplace was a potential battlefield in the World War, and an invasion or attack by sea was a real possibility.

I’ve been told that machine-gun emplacements were at the Boardwalk end of each street in Ocean City during the war. Business in the resort continued, but blackout curtains were required at night for businesses such as Edwards 5 & 10. A row of tall, concrete pillboxes was built in Delaware. One or two of those pillboxes have been preserved along the Delaware Coast.

The Route 50 bridge is 68 years old, at this writing in 2010. It is considered a historic site because it is one of a very few operating drawbridges in Maryland. Drawbridges at Kent Narrows, Cambridge, Vienna and Salisbury have been replaced or bypassed by modern high bridges. The Route 50 bridge is estimated to have about 20 years of useful life remaining. Maryland has considered plans to replace the bridge, but no construction decisions have been made.

A Hinge in History: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Of all the bridges and highway construction projects on the Eastern Shore, nothing had more impact on life, business, and tourism than the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The opening of the first Bay Bridge, one lane in each direction, in 195_ was a turning point. It changed Ocean City dramatically, over the following decades.


3 Responses “OC History” →

  1. Newt Weaver

    April 13, 2010

    Say John…

    Great photo. That’s my mother’s brother Charles Lynch at 2nd base. Does Mr. Conner have an extra print…I’d like to send it to my Uncle who will be 93 this Oct. Outstanding!!!!

    All the best,
    P.S. I sent John M. Purnell an email with this photo.

    • The original of the 1937 team photo is on display at the museum at Shorebirds Stadium in Salisbury. Bob has a somewhat faded copy. Judy scanned the copy into the computer, and I was able to enhance it a little using iPhoto. The photo on the blog is probably the best copy, outside of the museum in Salisbury. (Though any of the families of those players might have a better copy hanging on their wall). Of course if you wanted to get the photo from Bob and take it to a professional, they could probably enhance it much better. — John

  2. Great pic!! I stumbled on Lou Gehrigs the other day at Valhalla… All sorts of old gloves and bats.. Took my breath away


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