The Founders & Vision
Coloradan narrow-gauge railroad builder Otto Mears was the first President of the Chesapeake Beach Railway Company. The primary financial backer of the enterprise was wealthy banker David H. Moffat, also a railroad man from Colorado. In the second half of the 19th century, railroads were attractive to investors and speculators. Both men, with considerable experience building railroads in the western mountains, likely thought that building a railway from the nation’s capital to a bayside resort would be both profitable and relatively easy. Joining them in the endeavor were two other Colorado associates of Mears, Charles Popper and John McNeil. Another partner was Colonel Ambrose Dunn, a man with a checkered past, who represented himself as an authority on railroad construction and negotiated the rights-of-way for the Chesapeake Beach Railway, though he invested very little money in it.
The Chesapeake Beach Railway Company founded the Town of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland in 1894 as a resort site. The original 1894 plat for the town shows illustrations of imposing hotels patterned after famous mansions of England and an impressive racetrack. High-stakes gambling would be the big draw for the well-off. In late 1897, Mears and company moved forward with their ambitious plans.
The Chesapeake Beach Railway was completed by 1899 and the founders continued with construction of the resort, including a mile-long boardwalk over the water just offshore. June 9, 1900 was the official opening day of the Chesapeake Beach Railway and resort.
Over the next year, Otto Mears proceeded to build the racetrack with a grandstand and stables, a Club House, and a casino. However, in 1901, local authorities forced a stop to the gambling, and the founders changed the focus to a family resort.
Though the grand-scale plans never materialized, Chesapeake Beach did become a popular destination for excursionists. Over time, many people who came first as visitors bought cottages and the town developed and grew, thanks to the Chesapeake Beach Railway.