Longtime Rehoboth Beach resident Ann Walls-McCool can still remember when there was a dress code to go on the beach. She can remember when there were three movie theaters in town, Scarborough Avenue was a dirt road and how the commotion of outdoor dancing at Rehoboth Beach Country Club would keep her up at night.
Things have certainly changed in the 60 years 95-year-old Walls-McCool has owned and operated Walls Apartments and Cottages at the corner of Scarborough Avenue and Christian Street. The country club has long moved outside town, no movie theaters remain, Scarborough Avenue was paved long ago and now people wear pretty much anything on the beach and boardwalk.
“The change has been enormous,” she said. “A lot of our folks remember all of that with a great deal of pleasure and nostalgia and wish it hadn't happened, but this is progress.”
Walls-McCool was born on a farm five miles outside Laurel in 1916. She graduated from Laurel High School in 1934 and attended Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, where she is an honorary trustee. She then spent 35 years as a teacher in Lewes and later brought a bit of that teacher mentality to the cottage business in Rehoboth.
“Before someone comes, particularly young people, they are told very, very frankly that there's no outside drinking and if there is any noise that is unnecessary, they will be leaving,” she said. “They seem to like it or they wouldn't come back.”
Walls-McCool bought the cottages in 1951 with her first husband Bill Walls. The couple added cottages one by one as they became available on neighboring properties. She later purchased the oldest home in Rehoboth at the corner of Scarborough Avenue and Christian Street, which was built more than 100 years ago, using pegs instead of nails.
“When we came here in 1951, the cottages and a few hotels were all the accommodations for visitors,” she said. “There was no such thing as a motel in those days.”
To rent a cottage for a week during their first summer in operation, Walls-McCool said, the cost varied from $30 to $40. Today, the price remains reasonable, but is up to $399 to $449 per week. She said the uniqueness of the cottages is a big appeal for many of her regulars.
“So many young people still enjoy the quaintness of these earlier times,” she said.
In the earlier years, she said, her clientele wasn't as diverse as it is today. Folks traveling from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., had to take a ferry over the Chesapeake Bay until the Bay Bridge was built in 1952. This summer, she said, visitors have come from as far as Ireland and San Francisco.
She operated the business with Bill Walls until his death in 1966. She married her second husband Doyle McCool in 1968 and continued running the business with him until he died in 1983.
“Everybody will remember him,” she said. “The town's never been the same since.”
Today, Walls-McCool won't be hampered by her age. She still fields every phone call, uses a black-and-white composition book for reservations and personally writes letters to each of her clients. The mailing list has grown from 350 people the first year to more than 4,000 in the 60 years she's been in business.
“We have people who come to us whose family was coming even before I was here 60 years ago,” she said. “We have many, many, many families who've been coming well over 50 years – grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”