Site of old Bay Shore amusement park still an oasis

I was not prepared for the dramatic and clear view of the Bay Bridge that I had on my recent visit to Edgemere.

I went in search of the old Bay Shore amusement park, where Baltimore families once traveled by streetcar to spend the day, and I found a delightful summertime oasis, minus the old carousel, roller coaster and bowling alley.

And while many of the 1906 park pavilions and rather grand architectural pieces vanished after World War II, enough survives to satisfy anyone with an amateur's interest in archaeology. As a waterfront locale, it delivers the goods the same way it did a century ago.

It's amazing how much survives. There is a restored trolley car terminal (now a picnic pavilion), a big ornamental fountain, a long pier that extends into the bay (from which I could see Kent County and the Bay Bridge), the original promenade sidewalks — and at least one small section of streetcar rail.

The streetcars that brought families in from the city stopped calling here in 1947 when the park closed and Bethlehem Steel Co. bought the extensive grounds with an eye toward possible expansion. But the steel people just let nature take over. Stands of now-mature trees grew where there were once lawns. The pavilions and the summer casino have disappeared. But despite the batterings and direct hits from storms like Diane, Hugo and Isabel, Bay Shore remained.

Bay Shore, now a component of the 1,300-acre North Point State Park, remains a fabulous destination. Curiously, it is cheaper today to enter the park ($3 per car) than to pay the old 30-cent streetcar fare, which, if adjusted for inflation, would be something on the order of $3.45. The trolley fare was somewhat high because the transit company added a surcharge tariff for all the extra miles. Riders crossed wooden trestles over Bear Creek, Jones Creek and Shallow Creek.

The Rev. Kevin A. Mueller, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Roman Catholic Church in Middle River, guided me around the park. A Baltimore streetcar historian and local history sleuth, he confided to me that he jumped the Bay Shore fence decades ago, before Baltimore County took over the place. Bay Shore had then been closed for so long that fans were curious about this locked and forbidden preserve.

I also visited Bay Shore not long after that. It was then a new Baltimore County acquisition, and it was lacking in amenities. That has changed.

Mueller says a visitors center built here a decade ago does a good job of recalling the architecture of the old Bay Shore casino, where chicken dinners were advertised for 75 cents. The center has a collection of old photos and 1906 dinnerware crockery initialed B-S-P.

"It's got the porch and the columns," Mueller said. "It's easier to see the old streetcar right-of-way in the winter."

He also showed me a small section of trolley rail just near Todd's Inheritance, an historic homestead with War of 1812 significance.

As I walked Bay Shore's amazingly preserved sidewalks, I could visualize how well laid out and harmoniously balanced this amusement campus was. Architects Otto Simonson and Theodore Wells Pietsch designed Bay Shore like a bayside world's fair, with stately pavilions painted a bright white. Buildings were carefully placed along a long promenade. This was not a garish midway. It was a little city of porches and columns.

The other day, a few people were swimming in the bay and others were spreading out picnic lunches on tables. It was hard to imagine the throngs that converged on the man-made beach (largely gone) or the water slide and motorized swings that once dunked bathers wearing woolen bathing suits in the 1920s. In a sense, the distant Bay Bridge was Bay Shore's undoing. People went elsewhere. So Bay Shore is now quiet and serene, and very nice, too.

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