July 10, 2023
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

Going Down the Shore: Summer Recreation for our Immigrant Ancestors

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum’s initial focus was on the homes, workplaces, religious and secular associations, and education of the immigrant Irish who arrived in the wake of the Great Hunger, and established new lives in America’s 2nd largest city of the time. Census records gave us key information about the Feeley family, who lived in our Museum location at 918 Lemmon Street for over twenty years. We have learned additional information consistently, but never dreamed that a family photo was out there, just waiting to be discovered.

 Museum friend Sharon Knecht walked in one day and shared an incredible amount of information about the Feeleys; her husband’s ancestors. Her work as an archivist lent itself to valuable insight into the family story, and we received access to several images from her, including a mind-boggling photo of the family. No studio portrait for sure, but rather a waterside image with a railroader’s family in full beach regalia. We were shocked!

Sarah and James Feeley and family, circa 1871


We came to learn much about the Chesapeake Bay Excursions that families went on, sponsored by churches and other organizations to raise a little money, offer a respite for hard-working families and refresh them with sea breezes, music, water play, food and drink. We were delighted to add this aspect of life to our understanding of James and Sarah Feeley’s young family, who lived in the shadows of America’s first railroad.

The greater Baltimore area was an ideal place for this “down-the-shore” fun, whether it be found via steamboat going to Maryland’s Eastern Shore towns, or in local rivers, creeks and inlets on the Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. These intermingled with Baltimore City, Baltimore County tributaries just northeast of the City, and especially nearby Anne Arundel County, just south of the city line. These three jurisdictions had 801 miles of waterfront available for purchase, lease or for a day visit by the general public. Much of it was rented out by fraternal organizations for summer fun.

Harford County, Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County shoreline 


A Baltimore Sun article, dated May 28, 1911 gave us real perspective on summer life for our ancestors. A typical scenario was that landowners leased sections of shoreline to men’s social clubs and associations, with prices depending on the length of waterfront and any improvements that might be found there…or not. More than 6,000 “shores” were within an easy distance from Baltimore, and clubs would lease them for a modest $25 a year for a small patch, or up to $250 for larger waterfronts. Many organizations dug their own wells, placed a housing structure that ranged from tar-paper shanties to significant clubhouses, and constructed piers to launch boats out into the rivers that led eastward to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Sun writer of the extensive article, titled “Where Comfort is King: Down on the Shore”, stated the opinion that:

“In no other city in the country have the people taken better advantage of the available waterfront”.


Multiple thousands traveled to the shore to leave city smog and noise behind, and make their summer in shanties and houses built by the men of the family. Fathers could join them on the weekend, and children’s summers were spent barefoot, and in beachwear.

Among the local groups that leased a “shore” was the Silver Leaf Social Club, a sports-oriented organization that had a highly competitive semi-pro baseball team. They were one of hundreds of organizations that rented property along Baltimore County’s Middle River, and its nearby Dark Head Creek (now known as Dark Head Creek Park).  Members had their advantages, and were given priority when it came to scheduling the use of the facilities, but other groups could rent a little time from the organization to hold social events of their own. Such was the case when this photo was taken.



 We were delighted to receive this photo from Museum friend Stephanie Town, who shared this image from her family archives. It features a group of Lamplighters sharing some "down time" at Dark Head Creek, where the Silver Leaf Social Club had their own pleasure shore. It is thought that the photo was taken circa 1910, and we do wonder if the clues found in the photo might indicate a patriotic gathering: perhaps on July 4th or Labor Day.  Men are not exactly in beach regalia, but there are some fun hats among the group, as well as flags and a crab net. Perhaps this was taken in the Autumn; are they sitting on fallen leaves?

 The man of the hour was W. Charles Taylor, front row of the above photo, 2nd from right. He resided at 103 S Arlington Ave. (a neighbor of the Feeley Family) and worked for the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.as a City lamplighter.


Charles is also one of the featured men in the above photo of bicycling lamplighters, given to him at his retirement in 1930 from the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. He is seen 4th from the right.

Baltimore’s abundant nearby shoreline is still in use by families, clubs and assorted businesses that focus on pleasure. Some properties have been commandeered by local and national government, or by those who transformed these waterfront lands into significant homes of their own. There are still many who remember happy childhood years spent on their own modest family shore.

 Middle River was popular with many families, and recreational time there was shared by the family of David Lari. Here’s a photo from his family collection:


Many public beaches were also available along the Western Shore of the Bay in earlier and more modern times. An example was Mago Vista in Anne Arundel County. A modest entrance fee got you in, and bathing suits could be rented!

Earlier years were times of segregation, and African Americans went to beaches of their own. One of these was Highland Beach, in Anne Arundel County. A YMCA group paid a visit there in 1930.


Others traveled across the bay via steamboats such as the S.S. Bay Belle to the Eastern Shore’s large resort towns, and stayed in boarding houses and hotels with prepared meals and considerable amenities available to vacationers. These included Tolchester Beach and Betterton Beach, known as the Irish Riviera to some. Here’s an image or two from these fancier digs that were truly vacation spots; enjoy!

Bathing Beauties at Betterton, 1922.

Horseplay by Harry, Sophie and Eleanor at Betterton Beach, 1930


Our best wishes to each of you as you enjoy your own version of summer fun.



"Baltimore City, County and Anne Arundel County have 801 miles of shoreline"

http://www.mgs.md.gov/geology/areas_and_lengths.html (accessed 7/6/2023)

"Anne Arundel County has 533 miles of shoreline"

https://www.aacounty.org/departments/public-works/wprp/education-outreach/waterfront-homeowners/ (accessed 7/6/2023)


Map of the “Western Shore” area

https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images?p=maryland+county+map+printable&fr=mcafee&type=E210US739G0&imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mapofus.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2013%2F09%2FMD-county.jpg#id=4&iurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mapofus.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2013%2F09%2FMD-county.jpg&action=click (Accessed 7/7/2023)

Highland Beach article

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/when-private-beaches-served-as-a-refuge-for-the-chesapeake-bays-black-elite-180982296/ (Accessed 7/10/2023)


Baltimore Sun

David Lari Photo Collection

Sharon Knecht, Archivist

Eleanor W. Baxter McCusker Photo Collection

Stephanie Town (Town Family Photo Archives)



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Baltimore Travel Guide.