Reviving the Past
When Otto Mears first brought the railroad to Chesapeake Beach in 1900, he spent $6 million to build his dream town, a Monte Carlo on the Bay. More than a century later, Chesapeake Beach Resort partner Gerald Donovan is keeping that dream alive by rebuilding one of Mears’ original attractions.
“Mears built this huge boardwalk on the Bay, so people would come from around the D.C. area,” says Donovan. “He advertised it as one hour to the sea. It was really something spectacular.”
The first day the town opened, 5,000 people journeyed by steamship and rail to see the spectacle.
A century later, Donovan and brother Freddy have lured people from all over the metro area to the all new Chesapeake Beach Resort with attractions beyond the imaginings of the tourists of the early 20th century: three restaurants; a hotel, spa and indoor pool; a charter fishing fleet; and, to replace the grand old swimming pool, a town water park conceived and built when Gerald was mayor of Chesapeake Beach.
But some things were still missing.
Among the boardwalk’s originals was the Band Shell, an outdoor stage for live waterfront concerts. Its intricate archway and shell backdrop made it “really good looking,” Donovan says.
“The band shell is in a lot of pictures in 1900 to 1910,” Donovan reports, proof that concertgoers in straw hats packed the famous structure.
Popular as the waterfront band shell was with visitors, Mother Nature wasn’t impressed.
“It probably got washed away during a storm,” says Donovan. “All of the amusements were washed away from the hurricane that came in 1933.”
This month, when the all-new band shell rose over the water of Chesapeake Bay, hundreds came from far and near. The inaugural act, Johnny Rogers’ tribute concert to Johnny Cash, filled the decks and spilled over into the sand.
“We’re going to have fun with the music. An awful lot of people love the nostalgia shows,” says Donovan, who booked two daytime country acts, Rogers and Hank Williams tribute band Hankerin’ 4 Hank, plus two nighttime acts for September 16 and 17.
The band shell is erected concert by concert to prevent winds from lofting its buoyant structure. But Donovan hopes it becomes a permanent part of the Chesapeake Beach culture.
“We’re not doing anything that hasn’t been done before,” he says. “We’re just following what was done in 1900.”
Friday September 16: Kurt of the KGB Band, 6-10pm.
Saturday September 17, Roger McDuffy, 6:30-10:30pm.
Sunday September 18, Hank Williams tribute band Hankerin’ 4 Hank, 3pm. All $30 w/advance discounts.
Chesapeake Beach Resort: 866-312-5596; www.chesapeakebeachresortspa.com.