HSP HISTORY Blog
Interesting Frederick, Maryland tidbits and musings .
With Arctic-like temperatures last week, followed by nearly three feet of snow received over the weekend, it’s safe to assume that most of us are desperately wishing for summer, and warmer surroundings. I, myself, have fixed thoughts on the beach, and I’m sure I’m not alone here. I know it’s not the right season, but at one time, long ago, Frederick residents didn’t have to travel far to reach the shore. A place called Monocacy Beach was their proverbial “oyster.”
Each of us “beachcombers” may have a different sandy setting in mind. For most people, Ocean City probably is their first choice. To me, it’s the Delaware beaches (Fenwick, Dewey, Rehoboth and you can throw Bethany and Lewes in there as well). Others may think of the Jersey Shore, Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks of North Carolina or Myrtle Beach. And of course, there are the legendary beaches that can be experienced as we speak, both coasts of Florida and tropical paradises found throughout the Caribbean. When looking back 100 years ago, the options were a bit different as travel made treks much more difficult, especially to the shores of Delmarva. Atlantic City reigned supreme, and Virginia Beach was another storied destination. But for most folks, going to the beach actually meant going to the Chesapeake Bay, not the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean vacation would not gain great popularity in our area until the post-World War II “beach boom” and completion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (in the early 1950’s).
After an earlier war, the “Civil” one, people began to look for recreation amidst the fresh breezes and salt waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Resorts began to spring up in the decades to follow, catering to people of the state’s Western Shore—particularly Baltimore and Washington, DC. These would become economic and promotional tools of railroads and steam boat lines, the two best transportation means of the day. Day trip and long term excursionists could not resist the temptation.
I first became interested in these bayside recreation/amusement resorts when my brother moved to Chesapeake Beach (Calvert County) in the 1990’s. Chesapeake Beach was the byproduct of a short railway built from the nation’s capital, and boasted a hotel with slot machines and a fine amusement park. I also read about other offerings such as North Point, Gibson Island and Highland Beach (for the segregated Black population), and others across the Bay and serviced by steamers: Rock Hall, Betterton Beach and Tolchester Beach near Chestertown. Chesapeake Beach’s population reached the 10,000’s during the heyday of the 1920’s before a devastating fire torched the hotel, coupled with the nation’s economic downturn courtesy of the 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression to follow.
Back in 1999, I found myself on a boat in the lower Potomac River, just south of Mt. Vernon. I was performing film work of capturing scenes of nearby Piscataway Park (NPS) for a documentary on the early Piscataway Indian tribe that once inhabited the area. This is the land of today’s Southern Maryland (primarily Charles County). My friend Bill, captain of the boat, pointed out to me the desolate remains of Marshall Hall, a one-time riverside beach/amusement resort that once catered to nearby Washington DC’s population. It would have origins dating back to 1868. A small amusement park lasted decades and was supplanted with a larger, more modern park in the late 1960’s The operation lasted until 1980, at which time the land came under the ownership of the National Park Service and was dismantled.
One day, while skipping through microfilm of Frederick newspapers, I landed on an interesting item in the Frederick News from June, 1924. It was a story announcing a new recreational bathing opportunity for residents—Monocacy Beach. This attraction was located near Monocacy Junction, and officially opened almost exactly 60 years after the critical “Battle that Saved Washington” took place. Billed as “a first class bathing beach,” it was constructed near the vehicular bridge across the namesake waterway, along the Georgetown Pike (MD355).
Monocacy Beach could accommodate nearly 1,000 persons at a time. Once complete, Monocacy Beach would boast a bathing house, picnic grove, parasoled island, diving pier and special self-teaching (swimming) swings. Open from 1pm until 10:30pm, bus and train transportation from Frederick would bring patrons to the resort for both day and night swimming, the latter courtesy of installed electrical lights.
The idea was the brainchild of a 37 year-old New York native, Edward Dietz. He was said to be a relative newcomer to town who conducted a Community Window Cleaning and Decorating Company, a service utilized by many of Frederick City’s downtown merchants. Dietz appears to be living in Hagerstown in the 1920 census and in 1922-23 had been conducting a like business there. After it’s July 4th, 1924 Grand Opening, I read mentions of many local civic and fraternal groups heading to the new beach for outings, while advertisements announced special entertainment such as concerts.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find out much more about the Monocacy Beach resort operation after that opening summer of 1924. I found Mr. Dietz living in Hagerstown as late as 1929, listed in a city directory as a window cleaner. He appears in the 1930 census the next year in Winchester, VA. It can only be assumed that his time in the "beach resort" business was shortlived—likely lasting just that first summer. Perhaps interest in the business waned, investors pulled out, or the following winter season came with a destructive force courtesy of Mother Nature in the form of a devastating flood or worse yet, a crippling three-foot blizzard. That would be ironic, wouldn’t it? Life's a beach!
1/28/2016 12:48:50 pm
I have made Frederick my home for nearly 49 years. I continue to be fascinated by its amazing history and I admire those who care enough to preserve it and pass it on to us "newcomers"!
2/8/2016 01:35:49 pm
Love to see frederick history
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