The Late Great Tolchester Beach Amusement Park

It was the day of the steamship on the Chesapeake Bay. Twenty-seven miles across the Bay from Baltimore, lay Tolchester Beach in Kent County, MD. In 1877 at Tolchester, an amusement park opened on ten acres of land. Though a somewhat primitive park—it included picnic grounds with tables, a few concessions, a bath house, a hand propelled merry-go-round, and a hand organ pulled by a goat. This was the beginning of the most popular beach resort along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, destined to provide entertainment and fond lifelong memories to millions of patrons during the next eighty-five years…

 After the 1880s, as steamship travel became more popular, improvements were made to the park, and eventually there were hotels, restaurants, and facilities for games, picnics, horse-racing, etc. The amusement park featured a merry-go-round and roller coaster, with games including a shooting range and tenpin bowling alley. Other activities were bathing and crabbing.

The Tolchester Steamboat Company ran excursion steamships to Tolchester Beach from Pier 15 at Light Street in Baltimore. One of the most popular excursion steamers on the bay was the company’s side-wheeler Louise, acquired in 1882. With a capacity of 2,500 passengers, Louise is said to have carried 5 million passengers in 40 years of operation.

 On June 1st, 1889, a bizarre attraction opened at the park—a dead whale. Although dead for weeks, the whale was perfectly preserved and would have appeared completely lifelike if it weren’t for the billowing wafts of formaldehyde that emanated from its thick, elephantine hide. Some of the more adventurous in the crowd purchased tickets to enter the monster’s mouth, which in true Victorian fashion, had been outfitted for comfort with a settee, a table, and carpeting—a Jonah-style amusement. The whale had been killed in Cape Cod, and then pickled, sold, and transported as a tourist attraction for the resort hot-spot: Tolchester Beach.

In its prime, Tolchester Beach expanded to 155 acres and was serviced by six steamers and a ferry. Joyous visitors stayed at the great summer hotel on the top of the bluff. There was a dance hall, a roller coaster, bowling alleys, a bingo parlor, a roller skating rink, the whip, dodgems, pony and goat carts, boat rides, a miniature steam train named Jumbo, novelty and candy shops, and popcorn, ice cream, hot dogs and kewpie doll stands.

At its height, Tolchester Beach attracted as many as 20,000 visitors a weekend. Sadly, after flourishing for eight-five years, Tolchester Beach passed, finally closing in 1962. Fran’s parents used visit Tolchester Beach as children. Ahhh…the grand days of steamship travel to an amusement park and resort!


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2 Responses to “The Late Great Tolchester Beach Amusement Park”

  1. shirley johnson (@draculaloversd1) Says:

    Went there every year in my pre-teens. What a wonderful place. 1945 on.

  2. Don Payne Says:

    During the depression years it was the great escape from Baltimore summer heat. At 91 it is still a lasting sweet memory. Those were the days.

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