Originally inhabited by Native Americans, Englishman Thomas Fenwick was the first colonist to own the land that is now known as Ocean City, Maryland. In 1869 the first oceanfront cottage was built by a businessman named Isaac Coffin. Coffin rented the cottage to paying guests, who at the time visited the beach to fish and enjoy the natural beauty. At the time the area was remote and visitors had to travel by stagecoach and ferry to reach it.
It was not long after Isaac Coffin built his oceanfront cottage that people began building simple boarding homes in the area. The first boarding houses primarily rented rooms to businessmen that came to survey and develop the land. Eventually the land was divided into 250 lots and a corporation was formed to guide and oversee its development.
The Atlantic Hotel, which was the first major hotel in the city, opened its doors on Independence Day in 1875. The hotel had more than 400 rooms and visitors enjoyed dancing and billiards. For some time the hotel was the biggest draw in the city. Business for the city and the hotel picked up significantly when the railroad was extended to the town in 1881.
Development continued to flourish in Ocean City, Maryland over the next several decades. In 1933 a major hurricane hit and much of the town, along with the train tracks that came across the Sinepuxent Bay, was destroyed. This hurricane is also what formed what is know known as the Ocean City Inlet. The newly formed inlet separated Ocean City from nearby Assateague Island. The Army Corps of Engineers were called in to make the inlet permanent, which helped make Ocean City a major Mid-Atlanitc fishing port because it created a convenient access to the Atlantic Ocean.
After the war ended development took on a life of its own in Ocean City, Maryland. The completion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 1952 brought in a whole new crowd from the Washington Metropolitan Area. The completion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel further increased the accessibility for that crowd. These changes led to Ocean City becoming one of the East Coast’s premiere vacation destinations.
In 1970s there was another construction boom and a large number of high-rise buildings and condominiums were built. In the 1980s erosion led to the shrinking of the beach, which prompted the city to begin the first of many beach replenishment projects. Fire destroyed the original pier in Ocean City in 1994. At the time the pier housed a haunted house, water park and a wax museum.
Another major beach restoration project began in 2002, in an attempt to delay the westward migration of the beaches in Ocean City. Engineers pumped sand in from offshore and deposited on the diminishing beach. The town also built a new line of sand dunes to create a barrier between the ocean and the beginning of the city’s front line of buildings. The project was repeated in 2006, but the beaches continue to shift westward toward the nearby towns of Berlin and Ocean Pines.