Horses played a big role in Ocean City’s development

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OCEAN CITY — It was a simple sub-division, easily granted by the city’s planning board, but there was one small issue on the corner of North Street and Asbury Road that brought a smile to the face of Chairman John Loeper at a Feb. 1 planning board meeting.

The enormous lot had a 5-foot easement attached to it. Running across the back of the lot, the easement was not enough of an issue to cause a problem, but it did need some historic clarification.

 

“When you look at the older parts of town, you’ll see these five foot easements,” said Loeper, a local historian who also serves on the US Life Saving Station 30 committee and as a member of the board of trustees for the Ocean City Historical Museum.

On lots, mostly those facing the numbered side streets in the city’s north end, with no alley access, 5-foot right of ways running along the back of the property allow for a horse and bridle.

“You needed 5 feet. So, to allow for people to take the horse through the back, there was a 5-foot right of way,” said Loeper. “You could not build back there. People used to access the back of their house from behind, passing across the right of way.

“I saw it on the plan for the corner lot, this easement, and I thought, ‘Well, who is pulling a horse through their back yard?’” he said. “It always makes me smile to think about this. Here we are all these years later and the easements are still there.”

Horses, he noted, were the only source of transportation on the island for many years. Even after the turn of the century when automobiles became more common, horses remained.

“Horses were here up until about 1915, maybe longer,” he said. “They had livery stables downtown. Not everyone went to a car right away; horses were still used for quite a while.

“They didn’t want people walking the horses in the street, and they wanted people to take the horse into the backyard through the back, through the alley or the easement,” he said. “When they laid the town out, they made sure to save room for the horses where there were no alleys. It is a unique thing, to have this in the deed restriction. These remain all over town and I still get a kick out of it when I see it.”

Loeper said the area can be fenced in, but property owners are not permitted to put up a shed.

“You’ll see this where the houses face the side streets, most of the lots are small and there is no alley access,” he said. “The lots are actually 5 feet shorter because of this easement. We stumbled on this when we were looking at some old maps; it really is very interesting.

“They used to allow horses on the beach, they rented them,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine now by today’s standards, but the horse was important to the development of the island.

“During World War II, the U.S. Coast Guard patrolled with horses on the beach,” he said. “There is a lot of history with the horse on this island.”

Considering the island was laid out before the development of the automobile, Loeper said the streets are very wide. The Lake Brothers, he said, did not take the automobile into consideration.

“Look at Wesley Avenue, they didn’t design that for a horse and carriage,” he said. “Compare our streets to Philadelphia, where the streets are very narrow. The founding fathers were looking for light, air and space, and they designed the streets to be very, very wide to provide it. They wanted people to be able to feel the sea breezes.

“Had they just considered a horse and carriage, the streets wouldn’t be very wide at all,” he said.

The island is long and straight, too, he said.

“You can look north or south from a side street and see for about ten blocks in most areas,” he said. “The founding fathers did a very good job. Even the alleys are 15 feet wide.


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