Tuesday, August 8, 2017

When Visiting "the Beach" Meant the Bay

I grew up in Owings, Maryland, which is located about five minutes inland (by car) from the town of Chesapeake Beach.  When I was a kid in the 1970s,  I remember the place as a sleepy, rundown waterfront community town.  (The construction of a new resort and waterpark in recent years have led to a "renaissance" for Chesapeake Beach—and its sister town of North Beach, which has built a short boardwalk.)  I have a vague memory of seeing an old rusty carousel sitting unused when I was very small (mid 1970s maybe), and I heard wispy tales of a former glory day, when it was active.  (Some time after the amusement park in Chesapeake Beach closed for good in 1972, the Chesapeake Carousel was moved to Watkins Park—located in Prince George's County, Maryland—and restored.)

But my parents—and especially my grandparents—actually remember(ed) when Chesapeake Beach was "the Beach".  My grandmother told me stories about what it was like in its heyday, and even when I see photos of what was [see examples below] I can scarcely believe them to be real.  The resort was built around the vision to create a new railroad line between Washington DC and "the Beach", with stops along the way to pick up passengers.  The terminal station was at Chesapeake Beach, where countless visitors exited to explore Chesapeake Beach, and escape the summer heat of Washington DC. (The Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum has been established to keep the memory alive).  There was a grand hotel called the Belvedere, that overlooked the Bay, to accommodate the wealthier visitors to the shore—until it burned down in 1923.  There was an amusement park to entertain the throngs that descended upon the Beach—complete with attractions extending out over the Bay, including a wooden roller coaster called the Great Derby [shown below],  a 400 foot boardwalk, casino, dance pavilion, theaters, dancing bears, steamboat landing [shown below], etc.

My grandmother told stories of "riding the steamboat" from Chesapeake Beach
 to Baltimore to attend business college as a young child. That would have been ~1920.
Passengers walked out a long, narrow dock that extended out from the boardwalk where the
amusements were located, to board the ship.
The Great Derby must have been a wild ride!
Imagine a rickety, wooden coaster extending out over the Chesapeake.
Safety regulations weren't nearly as strict as they are today...
The Chesapeake–Potomac hurricane of 1933 severely damaged the steamboat landing and
the other amusements that extended out over the water.
The resort reopened in the 1940s and lasted until 1972, but was never as grand as before the storm.
You can learn more about when "visiting 'the Beach' meant the Bay"  
(The photo above actually comes from the site referenced above.)

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