OCEAN CITY -- The Belmont-Hearne's history is rooted in the ties that bind, year after year: family.
"My great-grandma started it," Kate Bunting says of the hotel at 4 Dorchester St. on the Boardwalk.
The hotel opened in 1897 as a cottage. Then it was sold to Mrs. Bunting's great-grandmother, Lizzie Hooper Hearne, in 1905, and its history offers a glimpse of how downtown Ocean City has changed with the times.
"My grandmother was married in one of those corner rooms in 1905 -- at 6:30 in the morning because that's when the train left!" Mrs. Bunting says. In 1905, couples didn't stay alone together until after marriage, she explains, and weddings were arranged to fit the train schedules that carried couples on their honeymoons.
Mrs. Bunting, 58, lives next door to her hotel in a rambling house on the north side of Dorchester Street. She began working in the Belmont-Hearne as a teen-ager, helping her mother cook and clean for the guests who came year after year.
"Mother ran it until about 1972 -- Mother and I and my grandmother," she says. As she speaks, her 31-year-old daughter, Amy, is doing paperwork for the hotel in the dining room behind her. Daughter Susan, 34, is next door working in the Belmont.
The hotel is actually two buildings: The Belmont, with 24 rooms and the Hearne, next door, with 10 rooms and five apartments. Mrs. Bunting also owns a building behind the Belmont, the Nordica, with 12 rooms.
Times have changed -- Mrs. Bunting's grandmother wouldn't let a guest come in the dining room in the late 1950s because he was wearing Bermuda shorts, one guest recalls -- but the tradition of returning families has not. This Labor Day weekend, many of her guests are regulars who come back every year.
Will her daughters continue the matriarchal legacy of the Belmont-Hearne? "Hopefully, yes," Mrs. Bunting says. "We're working toward that end."