If you were living in the Washington area 50 or 60 years ago, you might have been one of many who spent their Fourth of July at Chesapeake Beach, Md. It was only 45 minutes and a 25-cent train ride from the nation's capital.
Old-timers will remember that Chesapeake Beach -- 45 miles southeast of Washington in upper Calvert County -- was a popular resort with a boardwalk, a roller-coaster, a ferris wheel and other amusements. And, of course, there was swimming in the bay from a lovely clean beach.
After its heyday as a recreation attraction, Chesapeake Beach went through a phase as a slot-machine mecca after World War II. But that ended in the early 1960s as the result of Maryland legislative fiat.
Now the amusement park's crumbling buildings have been razed and under way is the first stage of Chesapeake Station, a 17-acre subdivision of 90 contemporary-style houses, with cathedral ceilings, interior walkways, skylights and wooden decks.
Station Development, Inc., headed by Dennis Murray and Robert Ford, is pricing the houses from $125,000 to $150,000.
For decades, Chesapeake Beach has been a small, isolated community on the bay. Growth has been slow, but the relatively painless 45-minute commute from downtown Washington recently has spurred more home-seekers to look bayward.
"Our assessed valuation here is only $13 million, and that could be nearly doubled with the completion of houses currently planned for Chesapeake Station," said Mayor William (Buster) Fortier. He added that he's impressed enough by the house plans created by Robert Ford to be ready to buy one. David Cummings Mitchell of Washington did the land planning.
Fortier said the town is about to start using a new water system, which will replace old wells, and will replace some sewers next year. The mayor, a 72-year-old retired federal employe, said that, in addition, some of the town shoreline will be reinforced with stone to prevent erosion.
The old resort community currently has 600 dwellings and 1,500 residents.
Developer Murray said that cliff-marked Calvert County, which is nine miles wide and 40 miles long and has 30,000 residents, has relatively little waterfront property available for development.
We made arrangements to buy our site four years ago and got it for about $500,000," he said."The town has objected to plans for a development of high-rise condominium apartments on the amusement part site by another entrepreneur."
He said that no model homes will be built at Chesapeake Stations. There is a three-dimensional model of the development site for prospective buyers to examine, as well as floor plans and a street layout. There is an additional $15,000 tab for "select lots," meaning those with the prime views of the bay.
Murray contends that the layout on the side of a hill will provide at least some glimpse of the nearby water for all of the purchasers.
Because expensive mortgage financing is the biggest single deterrent to home sales these days, Murray (formerly a mortgage banker) said he arranged 12 3/4 percent mortgages, with the rate to be renegotiated after three years. He said that a sales office will be opened soon in a trailer on the site and he expect to have 15 signed contracts before the end of July.
Murray said that the houses will be primarily stick-built and will have studding to accommodate heavy insulation, plus air sealants and triple-glazed windows. He said the few options will include microwave ovens and a garage or patio. Exteriors will be covered with cypress siding.
Ford, who built the award-winning Courts of Horn Points project on the water in the Eastport section of Annapolis in the mid-1970s, has known Murray several years through business contacts. Ford lives at Back Bay Beach on the West River, north of Chesapeake Beach where he has been building and selling houses to buyers with equestrian interests.
Both Murray and Ford are convinced that there's a market for new, relatively expensive houses on the bay.
Both developers also point to the recent facelift of downtown Chesapeake Beach, which was improved considerably by the dismantling of the old amusement park.
Thomas Hogan, an owner of the Anchor Properties realty firm of Chesapeake Beach, said that the current state of the economy has depressed sales in the area. His office sold six properties last month and has no more listings, he said. He noted that most of the nearby business is in ground sales on which owners take back financing.
Hogan described the plans for Chesapeake Station as a "plus for the area," where most houses carry generally lower prices that the new project.
Increasing numbers of Washington-area residents have been moving east and south because of retirement or second-career plans, and they are discovering that prices outside the metropolitan ring are lower for comparable housing. But Southern Maryland has yet to make a strong impact on relocaters, even though it's possible to make the trip into downtown Washington in a hour from most parts of Calvert County.