Three centuries ago, the island we know today as Ocean City was nothing more than cedar swamps, sand dunes and meadows. One of the first to recognize the value of the island was John Peck, who used the land as a staging area for his whaling operation. The island soon became known as Peck’s Beach.
Over the years it was used by local American Indians as a summer camp, for grazing cattle, and by mainlanders who boated to the island for picnics. Original ownership of the land is attributed to the Somers family. A few hearty families lived on the island for short periods, the most notable being Parker Miller and his family, who many consider the island’s first year-round resident. Miller served as an agent for marine insurance companies and spent his time on the island raising cattle and farming the land. The Miller family home was on the southwestern corner of what today is Seventh Street and Asbury Avenue.
In 1879, four Methodist ministers purchased Peck’s Beach with the dream of making it a Christian seaside retreat and camp meeting. Under a cedar tree (which still stands today at the newly renovated Tabernacle atrium), S. Wesley Lake, James Lake, Ezra B. Lake and William Burrell decided on the name “Ocean City” and incorporated the Ocean City Association. They plotted out the land, sold lots and built the Ocean City Tabernacle between Fifth and Sixth streets. Camp meetings began the following summer. Soon after, nearby city dwellers recognized the pleasant benefits of summering near the ocean, and the island began to develop with hotels, schools, homes and businesses. The first bridge to the island was built in 1883 and the first school in 1881. Both the Tabernacle and the cedar tree still stand today as a testament to the strength of Ocean City.
The famous boardwalk that today runs from First to 23rd streets was first constructed in 1883 and ran from Fourth to Seventh streets. In 1887 the boardwalk was extended to 11th Street, but only a year later, it was destroyed by a nor’easter. Ocean City residents were already enamored with their boardwalk, and it was quickly rebuilt the following year. The boards were extended or rebuilt over the years, and in 1980 a large section of it was moved back away from the ocean.
The legendary wreck of the Sindia happened in 1901 when the four-masted barque ran aground off the coast of 17th Street. Over the years the ship’s saga has fascinated residents and visitors with tales of intrigue and speculation. The ship’s skeleton was visible just off the beach until the 1980s, when the final few feet of the mast was finally claimed by the sea.
As Ocean City embraces the future, the city’s religious founding plays a large role in its enduring character. Ocean City remains dry – no alcohol is sold in town – and for many residents and visitors, it’s one of the reasons they choose Ocean City year after year and generation after generation.