Sand and subscribers: D.C. newspapers once had their own beach resorts
It would be of interest to many to read about the beach resorts founded by local newspapers. If I remember correctly, The Washington Post had Woodland Beach and the Times Herald had Herald Harbor, both in Anne Arundel County, Md. I spent my summers at Woodland Beach during the 1950s in a cottage my grandmother bought when they were first placed on the market. — Bob O’Connor, Ocean City In 1931, The Washington Post created a beach resort on the South River near Annapolis as a way to get more subscribers. Ads for Woodland Beach promised “woods and water, shade and sun” in a location just 32 miles from Washington. You could buy a plot of land only if you got The Post, ensuring that all of your neighbors at the summer getaway would be fellow Post readers.
Sounds like heaven to Answer Man.
The crazy thing is, The Post wasn’t the first Washington newspaper to embrace a circulation-boosting scheme that today may strike us as odd. In 1924, the Washington Herald had done the same thing, carving Herald Harbor out of a former peach orchard on the other side of Annapolis, on the Severn River.
Answer Man likes to imagine residents of both communities sailing into the Chesapeake Bay and waging fierce naval battles against one another. Talk about a newspaper war.
The 460 acres that became Herald Harbor were purchased in May of 1924 by three executives from the paper. By the end of the month, front-page stories in the Herald touted the community and invited subscribers to escape the hot and hazardous streets of the city. If you had $25, you could get a 25by-100-foot lot. Waterfront lots sold for $200.
It seems inconceivable to Answer Man that the executives could have acted without the approval of the paper’s owner, the formidable William Randolph Hearst, but apparently they did. In any case, Hearst was furious about the scheme. He ordered that the paper sever ties to Herald Harbor. Three weeks after the resort was announced, the Herald ran an article headlined, “Herald Harbor Company Is Not a Hearst Newspaper Project.”
Still, it was current and former Herald executives who continued to oversee the project, which continued to have a newspaper vibe. In 1925, readers of the Evening Star were invited to buy lots in an area of Herald Harbor known as Star City.
One group was not invited: African Americans. As the Herald wrote: “This particular club and colony is for white people.”
Seven years later, The Post started its own beach colony. An ad proclaimed: “Everyone desires to get away from the city to the shore during the hot months, and to own a piece of land at a desirable shore resort where one can leave every-day cares for days of rest and relaxation.”
A single 20-by-100-foot lot was $93. “And this amount need not be paid in full,” The Post wrote. “A down payment of $9 permits selection of your lot, and then you may pay $3.50 a month until the obligation has been fulfilled. The only restriction on the purchase of a Woodland Beach lot is that you must be a subscriber to The Washington post, either old or new.”
Were these gimmicks successful from a circulation point of view? At this remove, it’s hard to say. But Answer Man is doubtful. The lure of Woodland Beach wasn’t enough to keep The Post from sliding into insolvency. Two years after the community was founded, the paper was bankrupt, and Eugene Meyer bought it for $825,000. In 1954, the Herald — by then called the Times-Herald — was bought by The Post.
Both beach communities still exist. They are no longer summer refuges but year-round neighborhoods. Most of the primitive bungalows have been torn down and replaced by more modern dwellings.
Herald Harbor is still called Herald Harbor, but in the 1960s, Woodland Beach dubbed itself London Towne, the name of an earlier settlement on the peninsula and of a Colonial-era almshouse there.
John Rhoads’s parents bought a waterfront parcel in Woodland Beach in 1960 from the original owners, two brothers who ran a photography business on Ninth Street NW and had put up a pair of rustic beach houses. In 2006, John, a retired Prince George’s police chief, replaced the uninsulated buildings with a modern house.
“I’m standing out in the front yard,” John said over the phone. “There is a breeze blowing that takes away much of the humidity.”
Answer Man wondered whether residents there felt any loyalty to the great media organ that started the colony 86 years ago. Does John read The Post?
“At 5:30 every morning, there’s a paper in my driveway,” he said.