Waldorf Restaurant. Photo from Flickr user edge_and_corner_wear.

Maryland’s “Little Vegas” in Charles County

05/22/2016
By Preservation Maryland

Waldorf in Southern Maryland’s Charles County, was once known for tobacco farming and referred to as Beantown after one of the town’s founding families, and later in the mid-20th century Waldorf had a distinctive past as Maryland’s Little Vegas.

Gambling was legalized in Charles County in 1949 and, as a result, Waldorf experienced an economic boom in the twenty years that followed. In the 1950’s and 60’s, slots eclipsed tobacco as the area’s economic foundation; slots created jobs in the area and, at its peak, slot revenue in Waldorf exceeded the slot revenue in Las Vegas, Nevada.

 

Waldorf became a destination for people across the state and on the East Coast. Celebrities frequented Little Vegas, and famous performers such as Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Fats Domino and Conway Twitty starred in Waldorf’s night clubs, namely the Stardust Motel and Lounge. Route US 301 was nicknamed Slot Machine Alley, as it was rumored that each building along the road harbored slot machines, including the gas stations, barbershops, and hardware storesOther popular gambling spots were the Wigwam Casino, the Desert Inn, and the Waldorf Motel.

Of course, while many enjoyed the entertainment, fancy restaurants, and employment that slot machine gambling brought to the area, slots also generated a great deal of controversy. In 1968, gambling became illegal in Charles County. The area and economy suffered in its wake. The hardships that followed the of end gambling in Southern Maryland may make some nostalgic for the slot machine days, while others remember Little Vegas as a less rosy time in Waldorf’s history.

PRESERVING CHARLES COUNTY HISTORY

The Charles County Historic Preservation Commission was established in 2009 and initial efforts have focused on preserving sites related to the history of tobacco farming, the War of 1812, and the assassination of President Lincoln. Cathy Thompson, Community Planner and Historic Preservation Commission staff for the County was a recent recipient of Preservation Maryland’s Tyler Gearhart Award for Professional Excellence.

Today there are very few remnants of Waldorf’s golden age;  the teepee of the Wigwam casino survived as the Wall’s Bakery until 2010 when it was demolished. We’re interested in learning more about remaining Little Vegas icons, share them with us online or email info@presmd.org.

Our Preservation Month posts were written and prepared by Rachel Rettaliata, one of Preservation Maryland’s Waxter Interns. Rachel’s work with us focuses on communications and advocacy. She is a Fulbright Scholar, and will be attending the historic preservation program at the University of Maryland this fall. Learn more about Rachel and our intern program here: presmd.org/waxter.

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Preservation Maryland is Maryland’s first and largest organization dedicated to preserving the state’s historic buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes, and archaeological sites.

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