The staff at the Ocean City Historical Museum is on a quest.
Firefighters at the 46th Street station uncovered a sign that somebody had taken care to preserve since the days over 50 years ago when Nathaniel C. Smith was mayor and the building served as the city’s paint shop.
They called the museum and delivered a small wooden billboard that reads, “The construction ahead is a State Project being done over the protest of the City of Ocean City at this time.”
The message was signed by Mayor Nathaniel C. Smith.
But nobody at the museum can say with certainty exactly which state project Smith so objected to.
The staff posted this placard with the sign:
“Nathaniel Smith served as Ocean City’s mayor from 1959-1963. His administration was filled with challenges, from the devastating nor’easter in March of 1962 to the protests over the amendments to Ocean City’s blue laws. This sign, however, is a historical mystery. We are unsure of the exact nature of the state project under protest mentioned in the sign. Our research points to the establishment of Corson’s Inlet State Park as the most likely candidate. The southern end of Peck’s Beach Island (that now constitutes the state park, south of 59th Street) was seen as a potential site for neighborhood development. With the state claiming that land as parkland, it eliminated that possibility.”
Museum Executive Director Jeff McGranahan said none of the theories fits exactly. Though planning could have occurred earlier, Corson’s Inlet State Park was not officially established until 1969, he said. And the protected open space there might not be described by “the construction ahead” that’s mentioned in the sign.
The bridges on the state causeways leading to the island had been built earlier in the century. It remains unclear exactly what project prompted the protest.
McGranahan asks anybody with clues or recollections of the sign to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-399-1801.
McGranahan calls the arrival of the sign and the subsequent quest “fortuitous.” He said it’s allowed the museum to visit an untapped part of recent history that the museum is working to bring to life.
He said Smith’s single term must have been an eventful one — with the Storm of ’62 battering the city and with the city getting around to codifying blue laws that had been undefined since Ocean City’s founding.