History of Bay Ridge

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The land now known as Bay Ridge was settled more than 350 years ago by Thomas Tolly, who gave his name to the point where the Severn River meets the Chesapeake Bay.  Over the next two centuries, a succession of owners farmed the land, but because most lived elsewhere, no one built a significant plantation house on Tolly Point Farm.  In the late eighteenth century, the owners were Henrietta Margaret Hill Ogle and her husband Benjamin, who was Governor of Maryland from 1798 to 1801. The Ogles’ 470 acres, which they named Ogleton, included today’s Annapolis Cove as well as Bay Ridge.  Now, only the lake retains their name, an improvement over its traditional nickname, Cat Hole Creek.

Bay Ridge was developed breezesin 1879 as a grand Victorian summer resort with a large frame hotel on the bluff near Tolly Point.  At first the thousands of daily visitors came by steamboat from Baltimore and Annapolis, but in 1886 the Bay Ridge and Annapolis Railroad offered another route to the popular resort and made it accessible to vacationers from Washington and points west.  For the next seventeen summers, hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed the “Queen Resort of the Chesapeake.”  Among the attractions were all-day band concerts, dining and dancing pavilions, games and amusements, the gravity road, picnic grounds, and a two-mile electric trolley ride that wound along the river and lake shores.  Special events, such as the spectacular Fourth of July fireworks, attracted crowds of happy day-trippers.

The resort closed in 1903, and the hotel burned in 1915.  The only resort building that survives today is photographer George Buffham’s house at 11 Barry Avenue, the front section of which was built in 1893.  In 1922, Bay Ridge Realty Company began selling small lots on streets named for naval heroes.  Within five years, some one hundred families had built summer cottages in the new community.

Bay Ridge remained largely a summer haven until World War II, when the need for year-round military housing in the Annapolis area led many owners to winterize their cottages for naval officers and their families.  After the war, increasing numbers of year-round residents made the community their primary home, and very few people came only in the summer.

Just as many of the summer residents remembered the pleasures of the resort era, so many of today’s year-round residents enjoy memories of childhood summers in Bay Ridge.  Perhaps for this reason, Bay Ridge has a special sense of history and permanence displayed in the pride and community spirit of its citizens.

Based on: Bay Ridge on the Chesapeake An Illustrated History by Jane McWilliams and Carol Patterson (Brighton Editions, 1986).

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