[Rachel Woolf/The Baltimore Sun]
Just a year ago, I walked the length of the crumbling pier at the old Bay Shore Park, a summertime amusement and recreational destination in Edgemere in eastern Baltimore County. The pedestrian pier was then 107 years old and had survived the full force of every Chesapeake storm since Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House, plus the weather events that never make it into the record books.
As I left what is now North Point State Park, I considered the fate of this piece of sturdy engineering. Built of concrete, the pier was heavily damaged but still walkable. Like other structures in the one-time family playland, it had beat the odds of survival. It also achieved remarkable longevity. I am not alone in feeling that abandoned or decrepit amusement parks exude an unmistakable fascination.
Not long after my trip to Bay Shore, I heard the state of Maryland had budgeted about $1.3 million to repair the pier, which was once a waterfront centerpiece to the numerous surrounding park pavilions, a bowling alley, casinos and a bathhouse. The pier was something of breakwater to what was once the sandy beach where Baltimoreans spent the day for a 30-cent carfare.
I returned this summer to see the results of the pier’s refurbishment. I was not disappointed. Contractors were putting the finishing touches on the 1,200-foot pedestrian walkway paved in interlocking bricks. It is neatly protected by a long ribbon of riprap stone bulk heading. A pair of bishop’s crook-style street lamps, reminiscent of the 1906 period, mark the entrance.
Its end, where the Chesapeake Bay is about 10 feet deep, holds a small fishing pier.
The views from the pier are just amazing. Here you are, 30 minutes from downtown Baltimore, and you can easily see five Maryland counties — Harford, Baltimore and Anne Arundel — and across the bay — Kent and Queen Anne’s. Rock Hall is clearly visible. The Bay Bridge, also in plain view, seems as if it’s just around the corner. Nearby are two lighthouses, the upper and lower Craighill Channel lights. The more northerly tower is often called the Miller’s Island light.
Park ranger Bob Iman explained that reconstruction work began in November.
“The view is a million-dollar one. You can watch the cruise ships, too,” he said.
North Point is not as popular a summer destination as Gunpowder or Sandy Point, but its visitors grill and picnic here. They also like its hiking trails and its unspoiled, natural beauty.
It retains a beach, one that is much smaller than the artificial creation built by Baltimore’s old United Railways and Electric Co., which developed and once owned the park and lavished money on it. Architects Otto Simonson and Theodore Wells Pietsch designed it like a campus. The pier was part of a sidewalk promenade that began at the front steps of a summer hotel and ended nearly a quarter-mile away in the Chesapeake Bay. The hotel disappeared long ago, but in 2002, the state constructed a new visitor’s center that mimics the old architecture.
Park signs note that the first streetcar arrived at 6:40 each morning and the last one left at 11:15 p.m. In later years, there was a parking lot, too.
The Bay Shore section of North Point Park (1,300 protected acres) closed in 1947 when its land was acquired by the Bethlehem Steel Co. Stories have circulated that the steel giant feared possible competition from U.S. Steel here and bought the land, which was not so far away from its Sparrows Point blast furnaces.
The steel firm allowed its executives to use Bay Shore for hunting, but pretty much left the place alone. The wooden pavilions vanished, but not a massive, open-air streetcar waiting station. Restored as a picnic table area, it’s also a delightful reminder of how old fairground buildings were once constructed. And while nature has reclaimed much of the old park, man-made survivors like the pier provide a fascinating counterpoint.