George B. Cropper, 96, Ocean City pioneer

THE BALTIMORE SUN

George Bertrand Cropper, an Ocean City civil engineer, surveyor and builder who left his mark on the resort town where he lived his entire life, died at his home Thursday of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 96.

Mr. Cropper was born in Ocean City in 1908 at his family's home on North First Street.

"He grew up in a town where the roads were sand and seashell, and electricity was turned on only a few short hours each evening," said his daughter, Jacqueline C. Insley of Salisbury.

"A Pennsylvania Railroad train arrived in town a couple of times a day, and commercial fishing was the main livelihood. His mother was the first principal of the school and his father owned a hardware and plumbing business," she said.

"His family history and the history of his own long life, weave in and out of the story of Ocean City from its earliest days," wrote Mary Corddry, a former Sun reporter, in her 1991 book, City on the Sand: Ocean City, Maryland, and the People Who Built It.

"He was a pioneer here in Ocean City and in many ways literally and figuratively laid the foundation for the 21st-century resort that we see today," Ocean City Mayor James N. Mathias Jr. said yesterday. "His company did the surveys, engineering and then poured the foundations of so many buildings that have withstood the many, many storms of the years."

After graduating from the old Ocean City School in 1924, he attended the University of Cincinnati for three years and earned his civil engineering degree from Duke University in 1933.

Mr. Cropper joined the Army Corps of Engineers, and his first job in the service was in his hometown after the hurricane of 1933 had cut an inlet between the Atlantic Ocean and Sinepuxent Bay. Other projects he worked on included the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and Indian Rock Dam near York, Pa.

He returned to Ocean City in 1938 and established a land survey and foundation construction business.

During World War II, he enlisted in the Army and among his projects supervised the camouflage for Baltimore-area defense plants, including the former Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River. In Europe with an engineering company, he was in charge of building pontoon bridges, hospitals, laundries and prison camps.

After the war, Mr. Cropper expanded his business interests by establishing a concrete and construction company, and joined with his two brothers in acquiring real estate. In the late 1940s, the Cropper brothers purchased all the land from 94th Street north to the Delaware border for $35,000.

"They figured it cost them 45 cents for a bayside lot and $1.45 for ocean lots," said Sue Hurley, curator of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum.

As the postwar boom began in earnest and Ocean City started its transformation from a sleepy seaside resort, Mr. Cropper built the Santa Maria, one of the resort's first big hotels. He went on to construct the Carousel, Camelot, Seascape, Calypso, Flagship and Diplomat motels. He also built condominiums, churches, nursing homes and telephone exchanges.

"I called him 'Mr. Concrete of Ocean City,'" said John Purnell, a Maryland Times Press staff writer who profiled Mr. Cropper late last year.

When not at work, Mr. Cropper spent hours restoring classic automobiles in a shop across the street from his Jacqueline Avenue home. He meticulously restored and drove the original 1929 Model A Ford he had owned during his student days at Duke. Other restorations in his collection included a 1912 Overland, a 1912 Buick, a White Steamer and a rare three-wheel Kelsey.

"He would fabricate pieces for his cars on 150-year-old lathes that had been in his dad's machine shop," his daughter said.

He also enjoyed sailing.

Mr. Cropper had been chairman of the Worcester County Shoreline Commission and was a member of the American Legion, Lions Club and the Masons' Evergreen Lodge. He was a former elder and member of the First Presbyterian Church.

Mr. Cropper enjoyed a daily Beefeaters' gin martini at 5 p.m. "He used to say it was the 'elixir that gave him a long life,'" his daughter said.

Mr. Cropper's wife of 37 years, the former Martha Walter, died in 1973. In 1975, he married Ruth Thomas McCabe. She died in the late 1980s.

Services were private.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Cropper is survived by a brother, Robert L. Cropper of Vero Beach, Fla.; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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