Sounds of jovial laughter echo across the sprawling bay front lawn. A glimpse of ladies bedecked in jewels, minks, and long gowns that swish and sway as they walk, deep in conversation. Gentleman, perhaps with cigars and snifters in hand, clap each other on the back, taking turns commanding the stage, sharing stories. Silver trays filled with crystal champagne glasses float by, held aloft by white-gloved hands. For a young Adam Showell, peeking through the spindles from the second floor stairway, this was a glimpse into the magical and sometimes glamorous world of his parents, Ann (Lockhart) and John Dale Showell III.
These seemingly debonair soirees were held during the fall season, back in an era when Ocean City was only open for business Memorial Day through Labor Day. Rather than spend their hard earned money traveling elsewhere (a necessary consideration when the bulk of one’s income is only made three months out of the year;) the proprietors of local businesses opened up their homes to one another, celebrating the ending of another successful season and the lifestyle they all shared.
For Ann and John Dale Showell III and their four children, these parties and numerous other gatherings took place at the family compound, located just across from the current Ocean City Elementary School, in West Ocean City. Nearly 50 years later that same 26-acre bay front property, and distinguished house are still alive with the heart and soul of the family that once called her home.
A harmonious balance between work and family is evident throughout the property. It’s obvious that a large level of success in business would be necessary to sustain such an estate. However, a hand-constructed children’s playhouse, situated in front of the main house, provides evidence that even the youngest members were of the utmost importance. Adam Showell recounts a time when his father constructed bridges and ramps high up into the enormous trees surrounding the house, for the family goats that acted as both pets, and entertainment. In addition to the goats, the family also kept horses, sheep, pigs, lamas, parrots, lovebirds, parakeets…and even a Boa Constrictor and a monkey. The compound was much like a farm, recalling the original intent for the property, and the beginnings of the Showell family heritage.
Over the next several generations, various members of the Showell family would continue on Lemuel’s tradition of bringing a series of firsts to Ocean City. The first pool, bathhouse and bathing suit rental facility–in the early 1900’s, when most people didn’t own bathing suits, couldn’t swim, and had to be tethered to the boardwalk if they wanted to risk a dip in the Atlantic! The first bowling alley, and much later, the first apartment-style hotel, when Ann and John Dale Showell III opened the Castle in the Sand Hotel on 37th Street.
Ann and John Dale III didn’t start out in the hotel business. They met at Duke University, just after the war was over. It’s one of those classic and enviable love stories, so indicative of the 1940’s. Handsome soldier returns from the war, sees a smiling beauty, and pursues her. She agrees to see him. After only one date, and even though she was pinned to a navy officer, she breaks off her previous relationship, having fallen heads over heels in love! Ann was a North Carolina girl who was on track to become one of the first female doctors at Duke, until her late-night fondness for bridge playing caused her to switch her major to English. John Dale III was a 6’6” war veteran and by all accounts, a dashing fellow. When the pair came to John Dale’s hometown of Ocean City in the late 1940’s, they immediately got to work, with Ann becoming a notable local businesswoman. She played the part of hostess at a local restaurant, and ran the Olympia Club, a boarding house for men. John Dale worked at the Bank of Ocean City.
In 1948 Ann and John Dale purchased the property that would become the Showell family compound. In order to afford it, they rented out the main house for two summers, living instead in a tiny apartment above the grain barn. Over the years, business progressed for the Showells, from boardinghouses to cottages and finally the opening of the Castle in the Sand Hotel. The hotel and the family compound became the cornerstones for the Showells. As the Castle hotel expanded, it seems, so did the family home. A series of additions, the first in 1964, built a music room and master bedroom; another in 1972 extended the original dining room and turned a porch into a breathtaking glass enclosed sunroom. Throughout their years on the property, the Showell’s were known for their love of family, their enviable business entrepreneurship, their elegant parties, and veritable army of friends. Ann in particular was known to envelope into her circle people of all ages, from small children to the very senior, and all were welcome in her home.
On August 6, 2011 at 1:00pm, the Showell family compound goes up for auction, and with the winning bid comes the ending of an era of elegance, and the closing of one chapter in a family’s illustrious history. The ending of the story in this manner, begs the question…why?
The Showell’s had four children, all of which have moved on to very busy lives of their own. Two of those children, Adam and Ann are the current owners of The Castle in the Sand Hotel, the Barefoot Mailman, and the Green Turtle Club Resort in the Bahamas. The property is an estate of epic magnitude. It needs a family to live there, and care for it on a regular basis; it’s simply too much to hang onto for sentimental reasons alone.
But make no mistake in thinking that this property is being parted with lightly. Adam Showell recounted stories of his larger than life parents, and childhood on this farm estate overlooking Ocean City, with a loving fondness, tinged with emotion and desirable nostalgia. One story in particular, of Adam boarding a wooden boat, making his way across the bay to one of the private wooded islands, where he could hunt and fish the day away…invokes images of a 19th century novel, all the while contrasted fortunately by the backdrop of the modern day monolith that is Ocean City. A childhood spent on this property, and this lifestyle, is enviable.
The setting of the property is undeniably the most perfect for miles. It is likely unparalleled in its views, acreage, private harbor and docks, and the grand house itself, which harkens back to a different time, full of elegance and sophistication. When this property is sold on August 6th, for all of it’s beauty and charm, it cannot be denied that what the new owner is really purchasing is a lifestyle akin to a classic movie, or a celebrated novel.
It’s often said that a man’s home is his castle, and a woman’s home is the extension of her heart and soul. That is certainly the case here. This was the personal home of the man who built The Castle, and the lady who guided him. All around the Showell compound, you can still feel the loving presence of Ann. Her house welcomes visitors, as she must have, with an open heart and a tender embrace. And it’s Ann who appears most in this story. A North Carolina girl, who fell in love and was uprooted to Ocean City, Maryland. Perhaps the new owners of the property, whoever they may come to be, will feature a lady, much like Ann who may not have grown up here, but will come to call this property and this town home.