Before Betterton became a beach resort it was a fishing village on the shores of Kent County’s Sassafras River. When this Maryland town became a much-desired summer destination the Wilson Line’s steamboat Bay Belle ferried passengers from Baltimore to enjoy the beach breeze, sun and sand, the arcades and amusements of Betterton Beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day. On Labor Day of 1961, the nearly 150-year tradition came to an end.
Today the view from the top of Main Street down to the beach is why Betterton calls itself Jewel of the Chesapeake (not to be confused with North Beach, Maryland’s designation as The Jewel of the Chesapeake). Although its hotels are now private homes or vacation rentals, the town’s charming, small-town atmosphere remains. It’s why many original residents have never left, why newcomers choose to settle in the beachside town and what brings former residents back home.
Town Manager Thomas Mogle is one of them. Mogle, who grew up in Millington, was living in Western Maryland working as an editor for Recorded Books until the pandemic and the sale of the company brought him back to Betterton. He became the town manager in December 2020.
Mogle’s office is located in the former Most Precious Blood Catholic Church, a beautifully restored building that serves as Betterton Town Hall, history museum and community center. “The names of some Betterton families are still inscribed on the stained glass,” Mogle points out.
The Betterton Heritage Museum’s collection of photos, postcards, artifacts and memorabilia are reminders of the town’s history. Outside, a restored sea shanty pays homage to the town’s past as a fishing village. Mogle credits former mayor and retired educator Carolyn Sorge as the driving force behind the discovery and preservation of the museum’s artifacts.
Mogle notes the ebb and flow of the town’s population. “We’ve seen a lot more people from DC and Baltimore buying property in Betterton. And we’ve got people who’ve never left. There’s a nice fellowship between the two.”
And more visitors have come to town— people who fall in love with the beauty of the area and small-town life, like the woman who describes her time spent in Betterton as “her tonic”.
To serve these residents and visitors, the town has recently instituted many improvements. “Because we’re so reliant upon and so entwined with the Bay it’s important for the town to be good stewards,” says Mogle. “We’ve developed one of the best water and sewer plants along the Bay. We’ve also emphasized protecting the waterfront and homes along the waterfront.”
The town continues to invest in its infrastructure, such as making needed road improvements and adding handicapped parking spaces at the beach. The town also installed a rubber walkway called a Mobi Mat so beachgoers with mobility issues have better access to the waterfront. Plans are in the works for the construction of a new boardwalk to begin after the summer season ends.
“We have a really beautiful park but it was plagued by ugly basketball courts,” Mogle noted. “The asphalt was cracked and no one would use it. So we set out to build the best basketball court we could.” Now the nets face each other. It’s a professionally painted, quality court that turned out better than anyone expected. “The kids think they’re NBA players,” he laughed. “ If we’re going to have these facilities, let’s give people something they really value and treasure.”
The park features barbecue grills, and a pavilion available free of charge for weddings, community events and gatherings. Mogle says it feels good to see families having fun, and kids laughing and enjoying themselves. It’s good to be in a town that’s open to everyone.
“I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I moved away,” he adds. “There’s an 1800-acre preserve 15 minutes away. You see plants, trees, unbelievable wildlife and sunsets. Why would I want to leave?”