It’s not unusual for Ocean City, MD to see a few hurricanes this time of year which usually cause beach erosion, forever changing our shoreline; however, the changes are generally small and imperceptible or fixed by the beach replenishment. Nonetheless, one storm in 1933 altered the geography and the town’s fate from a small fishing town that entertained a few visitors to the bustling resort town we know today that welcomes up to 8 million tourists yearly.
When the Atlantic Hotel opened its doors in 1875 and a railroad was built into the town from Berlin, the city started to grow, bringing in new resort attractions. The boardwalk was built in 1900, which was soon followed by the Ocean City landmark, Trimpers Amusements. The town’s growth continued as hotels welcomed more visitors, and more people purchased and developed property.
But Ocean City –still a fishing town– was limited by geography. At the time, Assateague Island was connected to Ocean City, and the calm bay, now used to launch boats, did not have an outlet to the Atlantic. This geography posed a problem for both local and visiting fishermen, as they had to drag their boats into the ocean from the beach using man and horsepower. Once making the strenuous journey through the sand, boaters would then have to launch their vessel into the rough surf. Many men lost their lives during these dangerous launches. Because of this problem, town officials requested federal and state help to create a man-made inlet, but their requests were denied.
But despite the denied request, the town got an inlet – albeit in an unconventional way.
Leading up to the devastating storm of 1933, the resort town had seen days and days of rain. The creeks and rivers were swelling from the onslaught of rain, and the hurricane only brought more rain. The flooding creeks and rivers emptied into the already rising bay. The strip of land that connected Ocean City to Assateague was no match for a swelling bay with nowhere to go. The waters rose over the banks. At first, it was only a small stream, but the raging water grew and grew, thus forming the inlet.
The late Charles Elliot, a West Ocean City resident, spoke about the stream turned raging inlet when the 70 year anniversary passed in 2003.
“When [Preacher Poole] got to the spot where the water was starting to breach the town, he got out and could just step over it,” said Elliot. “A short time later, when he returned from his house, the gap had widened to the point where he couldn’t get back across. It had gotten so wide so fast that he couldn’t even think of jumping across.”
Despite the destruction caused by the storm, many locals were excited about the new inlet. People gathered to watch the water swell, raging and churning as the pent-up bay rushed into the ocean. After the storm, the Army Corp of Engineers made the inlet permanent, shoring up the sandy banks of the new inlet with rock jetties.
The newly formed inlet was the lifeline the town needed. Commercial and recreational fishing boomed after the inlet was formed. A commercial marina was built soon after, and more changes were made to accommodate larger boats – ones that could handle the deep sea. Before long, blue and white marlin were caught offshore, and the White Marlin Capital of the World was born.
89 years ago the hurricane ravaged the community, sweeping houses off their foundations and burying cars and buildings in several feet of sand. It could have crippled the fledgling resort town, but instead, it paved the way for the once sleepy fishing town to become one of the top East Coast beach destinations.