…A 120 Year History
The story of The Atlantic Hotel began with a disastrous fire that devastated the entire downtown of Berlin in 1895. It was then that the Mayor and Council decreed that from that time on, all new structures in the downtown area would be built of brick. Hence, the present Atlantic Hotel was constructed in the center of this small Eastern Shore community of 3,000 people. All of the present downtown brick buildings that were constructed between 1895 and 1905 are on the National Historic Register.
Horace and Virginia Harmonson, feeling the need for an inn to accommodate the many traveling gentlemen (Drummers – men who crisscrossed the countryside in the region selling their wares during the turn of the century), decided to build The Atlantic Hotel. The hotel was a salesman’s hotel catering to their needs as well as having a fine dining room.
Mr. Harmonson added a livery stable at the rear of the hotel at which horses and mules were sold as well as horses and carriages could be rented. Being a visionary, he also had a horse-drawn bus which he used to transport guests and to pick up travelers at the train station to transport them back to the hotel. Families traveling to Berlin could rent carriages to take them on to Ocean City for a beach vacation.
The hotel was a showcase of the Eastern Shore and had been famous in the area for its cuisine. Unfortunately, in the 1960s and 1970s it had fallen into grave disrepair. In 1946 an addition had been built on the front of the hotel virtually obscuring the façade of the 1895 hotel as well as occupying the site of the garden which once stood in front. Portions of it were occupied by unsavory characters. If the Town was to be saved, the hotel had to be saved. In the spring of 1986, Jim Barrett, a local businessman who had previously restored another building in town, contacted a local attorney, Ed Hammond, who had restored two buildings in Berlin and they contracted to buy the ruin.
Local businessmen Junior and Bill Esham (father and son) were contacted because of their interest in the Town as well as Bill Mariner, a partner in the accounting firm of Faw, Casson & Company.
Mr. Mariner was asked to make an analysis of prospects for restoration and operation. A week or two later, he came back with a gloomy report. There was no way that the hotel could make it on its own; but, however, he added, he was interested in becoming a partner, because Susan, his wife, also a Berlin native, “liked” the deal.
This selflessness pervaded the efforts of what was to become the Atlantic Hotel Partnership. Others liked the “deal” and a Partnership with ten shares was formed consisting of: James & Nancy Barrett, Reese F. Cropper, William E. & Anna T. Esham, Sr. , William E. & Gloria H. Esham, Jr., Elizabeth Henry Hall, Clark & Jeanne Hamilton, Edward H. Hammond, Jr., Richard & Cheryl Holland, Charles R. “Buddy” Jenkins, Sr. and William E. & Susan Marnier.
The partners knew that they were getting into a money-losing proposition, but knew that it would save the Town of Berlin and would promote tremendous economic growth. While government could be helpful, government could not be relied on to accomplish what needed to be done.
A local contractor, Larry Widgeon, was retained to complete the restoration. Close to l.5 million dollars later, the restoration was complete. In the late summer of 1988, the hotel opened. It has been an instant success every since; however, not an economic success for the Partners.
The restoration, with the removal of the 1946 wing and the replanting of the garden has completely changed the face of Berlin. Immediately, the restoration of other buildings began to happen bringing people downtown to both live and work.
People now come to Berlin to visit the hotel, antique stores, art galleries, boutiques, the town glassblower, our many new restaurants, toy stores, candy stories, bakeries, breweries, wine shop, custom shops as well as two other small inns, one just recently restored. The Town of Berlin’s entrepreneurs have created a business community that offers unique and creative merchandise and items to their visitors. Coming into Berlin offers the opportunity to see a small town that has grown, diversified and is enjoying a highly successful economic destination for tourists, out-of-state visitors as well as our own residents shopping, visiting and enjoying “the small town” leisurely pace of life – all thanks to 10 investors who recognized the potential and willingly met the challenge.
The partners were brought together in January, 2015, at The Atlantic Hotel to be recognized and congratulated for their foresight and commitment to the Town of Berlin. Plaques were presented to many of the original partners who could be present. Over one hundred people attended the ceremony led by Mayor Gee Williams and John Fager, who presently operates the hotel and restaurant. A debt of gratitude and recognition was paid to the partners for, indeed, they have assured the Town of Berlin a future of economic growth and a place of distinction in the State of Maryland.
In 2014, The Town of Berlin was named AMERICA’S COOLEST SMALL TOWN. This acclamation proved to be of great benefit to the Town as it brought people from all over the country to Berlin. It also presented a new opportunity for the Town as travel journalists and photographers came from France and Germany to see our town and experience the charm of Maryland’s Eastern Shore hospitality and natural environment.
In 2013 Maryland’s Horse Industry asked Worcester County to set up the state’s first Historic Horse Trails. In pursuing the history of the trails, it was discovered that the majority of the trails were centered in Berlin, which is the closest town in proximity to Assateague National Seashore, home to the wild horses and Berlin also had been the Peach Capital of the US in the early years of the 1900s. The story of horses in the Berlin area dates back to 1732.
Within Berlin, there is an Historic District and an Arts & Entertainment District.
Most of the homes on Berlin’s Main Street are on the Historic Register. There is a walking tour that is popular in the spring, summer and fall seasons.
From Thanksgiving thru New Year’s Day, the Town of Berlin celebrates an Old Fashioned Christmas, complete with horse & baggy rides, visits from Santa, Christmas stories by Mrs. Santa, a beautiful Christmas tree lighting and caroling, every shop, store and business is decorated for the holiday, and Christmas music is piped on the streets so you can enjoy the festive atmosphere while shopping. Holiday hotel packages are available and lots of children’s events are held every week. All of the restaurants are decked out for the holiday with culinary specialties and sweet surprises. The entire town appears to be right out of a story book. And, to end the year, on New Year’s Eve, there is, believe it or not, a ball dropped at the stroke of midnight.
And, then, one of America’s Coolest Small Towns starts all over again for another year of fun and festivities…..