The History of Herald Harbor, MD. (1924-1984)
By Gloria Ryan Spence
Herald Harbor is located up-river from the Naval Academy between Sherwood Forest and Arden-on-the Severn in Crownsville, Maryland, Anne Arundel County, approximately 10 miles north of Annapolis, on the beautiful Severn River. Prior to the founding of Herald Harbor, this land was a plantation of peach and apple orchards and farmland. Edward Hall Jr., great grandson of Henry E. Hall, remembers trees being felled and drawn by horses down to the foot of Bonaparte Trail to the river, where they were transported by barge to be used as electric and telephone poles. Barges of produce went out locally and big boats took produce into Baltimore.
Herald Harbor was started in May 1924 by a Washington D.C. newspaper, The Washington Herald. The tract of land purchased by The Heraldt back in the 1800's, was known as the original Marsh plantation...Henry E. Hall, an entrepreneur from Youngstown, Ohio, purchased 551 acres, recorded in a land deed in 1886, from Eleanor V. Marsh, widow of "Colonel" Marsh. His costs were less than a dollar an acre. He moved his family into the big brick mansion formerly occupied by the Marsh family. It was located at the top of Mountain Road, on the left side of the road, and there were slave quarters and barns in the back of the house. The large brick house had been built of bricks used as ballast in big ships trading with the United States from England. Fine sand from the old caves was used as ballast in the ships return trip to England.
Henry Hall planned a shipyard with a community of homes for the workers. That never happened. He then planned a brickyard, using clay that lines the Severn's shores. That failed also. Finally he planted a peach orchard. Henry Hall had two children, a son, Joseph and a daughter, Nellie, half sister to Joseph. They eventually ended up owning the land.
The big old brick mansion was too hard to heat in the winter so Joseph and his wife built a smaller house on the river in 1910. This house is now occupied by Dr. Crowther's widow and is located on the right side of Hall Road just before the entrance to Longpoint.
Nellie Hall Kyle and her husband Frank Kyle, built their home on the Severn also. It is now occupied by their daughter, Jessie Kyle Wirts and her husband Dr. Carl Wilts and is called Severnside Farm, being located at the very end of Kyle Road.
It was from Joseph and Adda Hall and Frank and Nellie Kyle that The Washington Herald purchased land for a summer colony real estate venture to increase the newspaper circulation. On May 17, 1924 Frank D. and Nellie H. Kyle conveyed by deed 250 acres to Rhey Snodgrass, William Shelton and C.S. Eddy, officials of the newspaper. The same date Joseph E. and Adda M. Hall conveyed 210 acres, the price being $260.00 an acre, total price for both parcels being $120,000, mortgage being held by the sellers. Longpoint was excluded, as were parcels for family members and a few friends.
William Randolph Hearst, owner of The Herald, took exception to his newspaper being in the real estate business and on June 12, 1924 an article in The Herald announced "HERALD HARBOR COMPANY IS NOT A HEARST NEWSPAPER PROJECT." On July 1, 1924 the property was conveyed to an independent corporation, Herald Harbor, Inc. party of the third part. Officers of the corporation were Rliey Snodgrass, former Herald publisher, as president; William Shelton, former Herald circulation manager, as secretary-treasurer; and C.S. Eddy as vice-president.
The properly was surveyed into 25'xlOO' lots selling for $25 a lot or $200 for waterfront lots. Herald Harbor was advertised as a summer beach colony for Washingtonians. On June 13, 1924 an ad in The Herald states "practically 3,000 lots have been sold. The size and speed of the movement toward Herald Harbor has dumbfounded our most imaginative salesman. Even before our roads are in decent shape for heavy traffic, good people are coming down in droves looking over the land, selecting locations and arranging for bungalows."
Edward Hine, general sales manager, called to order a meeting to formally organize Herald Harbor Country Club on the Severn. Shelton Park was cleared of trees for parking spaces. Bathhouses and a boardwalk were built on the beach, steps down the hillside were built to the beach, and picnic facilities were provided. A dance pavilion was built at the top of the hill. An Inn was opened in the old brick mansion on Mountain Road with 16 rooms to let and meals were served in the Dutch Tea Room. A beauty contest was held, said to out-shine Atlantic City, with prizes of approximately $5,000 to the winners. The prizes included a cottage (still standing on Kyle Road opposite the beginning of Snodgrass Road), a new car, and lots. A dock was constructed at Shelton Park to accommodate the boaters, canoeists, fishermen, and those desiring a 25 cents ride on the excursion launch.
People turned out in droves. They came by automobile. They came by special excursion trains on the W.B.&A.EIectric Railway being run from 15th and H Streets, Northeast Washington to Gott Station, where motor buses transported the excursions to Herald Harbor, two miles distant. Bathing suits could be rented at the bathhouse. Picnic groves were available. If a picnic was not brought, sandwiches and homemade crab cakes and drinks could be purchased at the refreshment stand on the beach. Boats, fishing tackle and bait could be had if the visitors wished to fish in the waters of Severn River or Valentine Creek, both of which abound in fish of all kinds. They could be cooked and eaten right on the club grounds. Thousands answered the call to "dance where the breezes blow at Herald Harbor on the Severn." It was necessary to enlarge the dancing pavilion overlooking the harbor from a sixty-foot cliff. The dancing pavilion became almost as popular as the beach. As soon as electric lights were installed evening dances were held. Club members and visitors gave liberal patronage to James Clarkson when he built a three-room store just downhill from Herald Harbor Country Club, which now occupied the mansion.. The store sold a complete line of groceries and household articles. Plans were made to erect a chapel for church services and a local fire department. The church became a reality in 1926 and a small volunteer fire department began in 1927.
Shortly after the formation of Herald Harbor, Inc., William Shelton, as principal stockholder, took over as president of the corporation. He built his home in the summer of 1924 at the corner of the park and North Riverside Drive. Oren Lewis Construction Company was the builder and it was a two story Niagara type home with sleeping porches. It is now the residence of Jim and Gloria Spence, present members of the club. Four crews of carpenters were busy building bungalows and log homes for members. Several year round homes were built. Some members stayed in tents waiting for their homes to be built.
An amusement park was planned in 1924 to be built the following year "for those who desire this type of entertainment." Sales offices for lots opened in Baltimore at 19 Guilford Avenue that summer, and by the end of the summer a record crowd of over 12,000 people from Washington and Baltimore had come as investors or visitors to Herald Harbor. The original country club concept had never materialized.
The twenties faded and the thirties took over and the property was operated as a public beach and dance hall-amusement park, with William Shelton hiring a manager, Jack Jackson, to operate what was now called the Herald Harbor Park. The old brick mansion, which was originally the country club, inn and Dutch Tea Room closed. Several years later a hotel and dining room was built across from the Park, at the corner of Shelton Road and Holly Trail. There were 10 rooms for guests to stay in overnight or by the week or month.
Many summer homes and more year-round homes materialized. One of those was built by W.W. Stansbury who lived at the end of North Riverside Drive, at the time called Stansbury's Point. He was wire chief for William Randolph Hearst and was the one who sent the first message on Trans-Atlantic cable. Business was booming in the thirties. Cars filled the parking lot and lined up and down the narrow winding roads. There were swimming meets, picnic groves, bathhouses, a boathouse built in 1927 and run by Lewis Ahlgren. Canoes and rowboats could be rented. Fishing and crabbing were great. The dance pavilion was filled to capacity and overflowing with dancers on Friday, Saturday and Sundays.
The Severn River Yacht Club, a large room on the left side of the dance pavilion, was very active. Tri-City Regattas were held each year on July 4th, with people coming from all over the country to participate in the boat races. There were cruiser races, small Class A, B and C outboard motor races and the most popular of all, the main races, were inboard hydra-planes. A huge Coast Guard cutter called The Apache would start each race with a loud gunshot. The Apache was anchored in the channel of the river with all the dignitaries aboard. The racers had to go laps around buoys located in front of Herald Harbor Beach, the next one in Round Bay, the next one at Cedar Point on the opposite side of the Severn, and the next in front of Hendler's (the ice cream people) home and then back to the Herald Harbor buoy. Each buoy had a patrol boat to help out in case of accidents. It was very exciting.
Racing went on all day with various heats to eliminate racers. Trophies were presented in the Severn River Yacht Club at a party later that night. While this was going on there were swimming races for the children with medals for the winners. Also in The Park was a boxing ring where semi-professional prizefights took place. A great attraction was the greyhound dog races bringing all the summer residents, as well as many visitors, to the Park. Other amusements consisted of a large merry-go-round where you would try to grab the brass ring as you went around. If you were the lucky one to get the brass ring you were entitled to a free ride. Next to the merry-go-round was an ice cream parlor. Next to that was a concession stand for throwing baseballs at wooden milk bottles for prizes. I can still hear them yelling "three for a dime - nine for a quarter." Next to the ball stand was a gambling wheel where you could bet money on a number. Next to the wheel stand was a bingo stand with various and sundry prizes for winners.
In 1937 Samuel A. Ryan and his wife Thelma bought Herald Harbor Park from William and Dorothy Shelton. They also bought the hotel across from The Park from a Mr. Rudsail. Sam Ryan retained the services of William Shelton's manager, Jack Jackson, for several years, after which time he operated the summer resort and Park View Inn as he renamed it, as owner-manager himself. Sam Ryan had previously been a Circulation Branch Manager for The Herald newspaper. Not mentioned before, he was very much in evidence during the birth and infancy of Herald Harbor. Being in circulation he became involved in The Herald Harbor Company in the beginning when it was originally a newspaper venture to increase circulation by selling for $25 dollars a 25'x 100* lot for a weekly subscription to The Herald and a second lot for a subscription to the Sunday paper also. Get a friend to subscribe to a weekly and Sunday paper and you could purchase two more lots. Four lots were the maximum per person to avoid speculation.
Pipe smoking Sam Ryan worked in the New York Avenue offices of the Development Company and later in the sales office opened in Herald Harbor. Thelma L. Sibley also worked for the newspaper as a secretary and was sent to work in the Herald Harbor sales office in 1924. As things happen, they were married in May 1926 and lived in their summer cottage at N. Riverside Dr. and Hemlock Tr. and lived in Washington D.C. in the winters. Sam Ryan became secretary of Herald Harbor, Inc., his name being on deeds to lots purchased from 1926 on. Thelma S. Ryan's signature is on many of the early deeds as Notary Public. They both loved Herald Harbor and when they purchased Herald Harbor Park in 1937, they eventually purchased William Shelton's home next to The Park also. Their oldest daughter, Gloria Ryan Spence and her husband Jim live there today. Sam Ryan was also a real estate and insurance broker, plying this trade in the winters.
Business thrived at The Park. The legalizing of slot machines in Anne Arundel County increased business even more. More and more cottages were being converted into year round homes and the population grew. Now there were two stores, both combination grocery-tavern, where Clarkson first built his three-room store. The Kotzin's owned one store and side-by-side the Bailey's owned the other. Later, in 1945, Henry Dodge, a yearly resident of Herald Harbor, purchased the Bailey's store. Not many years later he purchased the Kotzin's store which had been sold to the Vevorito family, and joined them together into one large tavern-grocery store.
During World War II gasoline was rationed and people were no longer able to drive to the beaches in the summer. Herald Harbor Park closed down for two years. Sam Ryan returned to Washington for this period and worked as manager of the George Washington Inn on Capital Hill. Fort George G. Meade, not far from Herald Harbor, became a very active army post. Instead of summer vacationers, civilians working emergency jobs at Fort Meade leased Park View Inn rooms. Local people came from all around to partake in the delicious meats prepared in the Inn's dining room by Mrs. Cox and Mrs. Leady. A faulty heater in an upstairs bathroom caused a blaze that was seen three miles distant and Park View Inn burned to the ground in January 1941.
Some of the summer homes were rented to army and civilian families stationed at Ft. Meade. Many of the unused summer homes that weren't rented out or used during wartime became run-down and neglected. After the war ended and the gasoline ban lifted, Herald Harbor Park again opened as a summer resort. People lined the steps to the beach, paying 50 cents for adults, 25 cents for children, and an extra 35 cents to use the bathhouses. They also had paid 50 cents to park their cars and when the lot was filled they lined the roads. Big bands from Washington played at the dance pavilion.
Many more residents lived all year in The Harbor. There were many close neighbors. Everyone knew everyone. The children were attending the old Millersville Elementary School at the intersection of Millersville Rd. and Route 3. High school students went to Arundel, which at the time was a four-room school, located next to the present Millersville Elementary School. Many residents belonged to the Volunteer Fire Department and the Ladies Auxiliary was very active. The Union Protestant Church was well supported. The Severn and Valentine Creek would freeze in the winters and stay frozen until spring. Cars could drive on the ice it was so thick. Large fires were built on the ice so the skaters could occasionally warm themselves.
The Harbor had an active Citizens Association. The county was in those days run by County Commissioners and Louis Boehm who was Commissioner for our district quickly solved any problems. In 1949 Sam Ryan died suddenly at age 52 and Thelma Ryan sold Herald Harbor Park in 1950, exclusive of her home next to The Park. Messrs. Gilbert and Cate, two men in the slot machine business, were the purchasers. They ran a profitable resort until Anne Arundel County voted to phase out slot machines.
Another factor contributing to the demise of The Park was the opening of the new Bay Bridge in 1952. Many people started vacationing in Ocean City. Millard Gilbert continued to run the business until 1966. In July of 1966 a group of local residents banned together and purchased the property and turned it into a private club called Herald Harbor Recreation Association, Inc. All of the Cate and Gilbert holdings were purchased for $100,000, sellers holding a mortgage for $75,000.
Norm Miller was president of the Association, except for a one-year term by Ralph Gies, until James Twomey took office as president in the early eighties. The mortgage was retired in 1979 and a new building fond was started to tear down the old dance pavilion, Yacht Club, and Harbor Club under the dance hall, and build a new facility. At present there are over 100 members in the Association.
The building committee is working on plans for this project hopefully to start in the spring of 1985. Land values have skyrocketed in recent years in The Harbor. Waterfront property sells at a premium. The Harbor has such natural beauty of rolling land, river and creeks, and many trees. It abounds in geese, ducks, sea gulls, birds, squirrels, and other wildlife. It is a dead- end - not much traffic. It is peaceful, serene rural living even though in just ten minutes you can be in Annapolis Mall, 45 minutes to Washington D.C., and 30 minutes in Baltimore.
City water came into Herald Harbor a few years ago, eliminating the need for individual wells. Sewerage is planned for the future. With the advent of increased property taxes and front foot assessments, it is no longer economically feasible to hold on to a run-down summer cottage. Gradually owners of these properties are electing to sell or to renovate to year round use. Some of the cottages from the twenties and thirties era still exist, intermingled with lovely newer homes, but they are fast disappearing.
Our Herald Harbor Civic Association has become strong in recent years since Freda Brenner took over as president. A new and updated Fire Department and Rescue Service has been built. Freda Brenner obtained grants to fix up the old Fire Department building into a Community Center that is used for many activities. She is also responsible for getting two parks for the community. One is a mini-park, landscaped, with benches and several tables. The other is a recreational park near the end of Kyle Road, which has tennis courts, basketball court, so ft ball field, and swings, monkey bars and slides for the Harbor children.
I always tell everyone I had the most "fun" childhood of anyone in the world. My sister, Bette, and my brother, Bill agrees with me. Herald Harbor is the most beautiful place in the world to me and it is where I always want to live and eventually die and then leave Daddy and Momma's house to their grandchildren to enjoy as Jim and I, and our children, Valerie, Kimberly, Kevin and James have enjoyed it.
HISTORY OF HERALD HARBOR UPDATE 1984 TO 1996
The big story of the last 12 years in Herald Harbor is growth - here as elsewhere in Anne Arundel County. Our quiet little dead-end community has been discovered. People in increasing numbers have found the natural beauty and convenience of living in the Harbor. New homes are springing up on every available building site. The Herald Harbors Citizens' Association and Fire Department continue to be a focal point of community involvement. The Harbor has its own water system maintained and operated by the county; a well stocked mini-mart and deli; a child care center; a community news letter every month; our little non-denominational church thrives; a new community boat ramp; plus access to the river for swimming, picnicking, and boating was recently acquired from the county; and in May 1996 a House and Garden Tour drawing approximately 200 people and having rave reviews. On a sad note, The Harbor Club sits empty having fallen on hard times. Herald Harbor faces the dawning of a new century, proud of past achievements and eager and willing to accept new challenges. More shall be revealed!