August 16, 2018
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A History Of Summers In Severna Park

Maya Pottiger and Zach Sparks
Maya Pottiger and Zach Sparks's picture
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August 7, 2018

Known for its waterfront views and proximity to the state capital, Severna Park is a picturesque town. It’s composed of titled, identifiable neighborhoods with private and community beaches.

But do you know how it came to be? The Voice delved into the history of summers in Severna Park, using Marianne Taylor’s “My River Speaks: The History and Lore of the Magothy River,” historian Scott Jay and other sources.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, people from “established towns” — Annapolis and Baltimore — used riverfront lots as a source of wealth. They lived in the city and rented out their plantations to tenant farmers.

In the 1920s, the plantations started transforming into summer homes. By the ‘30s, the farmlands were no more, replaced by summer residences.

Riverfront life was made up of evening dances and outdoor activities. The allure was getting out of the city, said Severna Park historian Scott Jay. However, the towns were soon built up with brick sidewalks, gaslights and storefronts to make it more city-like for the women.

“People came for the river, the crabs, the horseback riding,” Jay said. “It was a well-kept secret, like going to the moon.”

Severna Park and the Broadneck Peninsula

Round Bay was perhaps the earliest beach destination in Severna Park. In a report titled “Anne Arundel County’s Beach Resorts,” author Mandy Melton compiled old advertisements and newspaper excerpts to uncover details about early life in the area. Among her findings was that Round Bay was an interracial beach resort established in the late 1880s.

Citing the Severna Park Small Area Plan, Melton said, “The resort had a waterfront hotel, boardwalk, dance pavilion and bathhouse, and was accessed from a station on a spur line of the B&A Railroad.” It also had “athletic carnivals” involving foot races and diving contests.

It was later, around 1911, that developers bought the property to build a summer colony.

Mago Vista Beach was developed by 1928, and it was used as a recreational area. It was open to the public, and had two bathhouses and a dance pavilion. The Benson family owned the property and later furnished the site with a miniature train ride, wooden roller coaster and cottages to host overnight guests from Baltimore.

The entertainment in Severna Park extended beyond rides and family-friendly games, Taylor said.

“During Prohibition, there were a lot of houses set up for bootlegging by Cattail Creek,” Taylor said. “They had big kegs of beer, and they played music.”

The shore homes at Manhattan Beach were transformed into year-round homes largely occupied by people who used to summer there as children.

The Mill Creek House was a popular rendezvous site and hosted many small parties. At one point, it served as a small hotel where the ferry would drop off travelers from Baltimore for a short getaway. When George Stinchcomb sold the house to real estate developers, it became a recreational beach used for swimming, picnics and row boats.

In 1932, Cape St. Claire had two piers that were used for shipping produce to Baltimore. Sailboats used to pull up to the pier and load up with local produce. Waterfront lots sold for $400.

The Bodkin area contained 6,500 peach trees and several hundred pear trees. It was owned by Cyrus N. Robinson and Charles A. Robinson. When Cyrus died, the land was sold to the Pinehurst Company and was developed into a public beach. The beach attracted Baltimore residents and was known for its Saturday night dances.

Gibson Island

Much like today, Gibson Island was a prominent community starting in the ‘20s. It gradually became a place where people from Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia went for quick getaways.

However, Gibson Island transitioned to a place where the elites of Baltimore stayed, and Cape St. Claire was for elites of D.C. A ferry connected the two communities.

The Gibson Island Clubhouse had a formal opening ceremony on May 30, 1924. It was known for its lobster buffets on Thursdays, and mint juleps were a very popular drink.

Gibson Island was rich in its traditions: yachting, golfing, tennis, parades and big band dances.

At one point, President William Howard Taft considered 1,000 acres for his summer home.

In 1944, a school was established in the clubhouse to accommodate the families that started living on Gibson Island year-round.


In 1908, the Annapolis Short Line Railroad ran through Anne Arundel County. It helped develop the land south of the Magothy River due to its immediate accessibility from Baltimore. The train made it easy for people from the city to come down for a quick getaway, Jay said.

The drive down from Baltimore took roughly two and a half hours. At the time, Mountain Road was “50 percent oyster shell, 30 percent clay and 20 percent potholes,” according to “My River Speaks.”

The Final Transition

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, the area made its final transition from summer homes to permanent residencies. The transition was complete by the mid-50s.

“Eventually, the lure of waterfront life drew them permanently to the shores of the Magothy, and the ‘summer places’ were renovated into year-round residencies,” Taylor wrote in “My River Speaks.”

In addition to Round Bay, Manhattan Beach and Mago Vista Beach, Linstead, Cape Arthur and Whitehurst all served as communities where Baltimore families settled during the summer.

In “Severna Park Reflections,” Susan Yardley Wheltle talked about her family’s treks to Round Bay in the 1950s, saying that the home offered a perfect summer getaway but had no heating or insulation for winter months.

“Our city home in Baltimore is where we all dutifully went about our industrious fall-to-spring work of going to school (in my case), drawing newspaper cartoons (in my father’s case) or managing a household (in my mother’s case). Ah, but in summer, in the liberating place, Round Bay, we could follow the path of countless vacationing city rusticators before us, exploring nature, swimming, catching crabs, and enjoying friends and the feasts of local establishments.”

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