An old railroad station may seem an odd place to recall Washington's original beach getaway, but a railroad made the summer escape possible. The Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum is housed in the former Chesapeake Beach train station, which sat at the end of a 32-mile eastward journey from Washington. From 1900 to 1935, the narrow-gauge railway carried passengers from the city heat to a refreshing bayside community.
Conceived as an Atlantic City-style summer resort for Washingtonians, Chesapeake Beach seduced visitors with cool breezes, saltwater beaches and plenty of amusements. An extensive swimming beach lined the shore, and the Great Derby roller coaster roared in the background. A casino and racetrack operated nearby. By the water, a 1,600-foot-long boardwalk teemed with restaurants, souvenir shops, a dance hall, a carousel, carnival games and a bowling alley. One end of the boardwalk flaunted a mile-long pier, where steamships from Baltimore unloaded more passengers. On average, 5,000 people a day visited Chesapeake Beach in the early 1900s, and several upscale hotels welcomed overnight visitors.
Over the years, fire and winter storms damaged many of the attractions. Some were moved further inshore in the early 1930s and continued to operate for a few more decades. A hurricane wiped out the boardwalk in 1933 and whisked away some of Chesapeake Beach's allure with it. The advent of the automobile coupled with the Depression put the passenger railroad out of business in 1935. By the 1950s, oceanfront destinations accessible by car were in vogue.
The small but information-packed museum keeps the bay-beach heyday alive through old photos, postcards, maps, memorabilia and a town diorama. It details the route of the railroad and traces the town's history. It even houses a Model T, the car that initiated the railroad's demise. Outside the museum, a passenger car named Dolores is undergoing restoration, and two small sections of a locomotive hint at the engines that once powered the Chesapeake Beach Railway. They're the only surviving relics that transported throngs of people to this once-exotic destination. It's still a magnet for visitors, lured by a wealth of charter fishing trips or a day of splashing and sliding at the Chesapeake Beach Water Park.
Open daily through September and weekends in October 1 to 4. Free.