August 12, 2022

Signing Ceremony to Acquire Elktonia/Carr’s Beach to City to Take Place on August 12

This news release was originally published by the City of Annapolis and reshared here with permission.

Annapolis, MD – The City of Annapolis and Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation are co-hosting a property deed transfer ceremony in partnership with federal and state officials, Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, The Conservation Fund, and Chesapeake Conservancy. The signing ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. on Friday, August 12, 2022. The ceremony completes the land acquisition of a 5.17-acre waterfront parcel important to Black history, culture, and heritage in Annapolis. The property was part of a larger beach-front enterprise owned and operated by the Carr Family from 1926 to the late 1960s. The ceremony is being organized by the Mayor’s office in Annapolis.

At the signing ceremony, the property will be deeded to the City of Annapolis as a new waterfront heritage community park co-created with Black community leaders and partners. Blacks of the Chesapeake, a 501 c3 organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the Chesapeake Bay region’s Black culture, will help to activate the park through educational programming and stewardship.

“Our heritage and land preservation project: ‘Black History, Recreation and Public Access,’ will lay the foundation for interpretation and creation of an authentic experience and understanding of the great beaches of the Chesapeake Bay,” said Vincent Leggett of the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation. “To accomplish this goal, the Foundation and its allies will collect the raw stories, documents, films, photos and other memorabilia that celebrate and offer glimpses to ‘The Beaches’ experience. From these materials, we will develop programs to capture the intersection of place and time. Visitors will step back in history and feel what it was like to belong at our beloved Carr’s Sparrow’s and Elktonia beaches. The message to young people, and those young at heart, is to assure them they can travel the seven seas, plumb the depths of the ocean floor, and explore far off galaxies from this exact latitude and longitude.”

Elktonia, Sparrow’s and Carr’s Beaches, located off Edgewood Road in Annapolis, were Chesapeake Bay destinations where Black families spent summer days and musical nights. During the era of Jim Crow segregation, Black Americans were historically prohibited from visiting the popular beaches along the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic seashore. In response, Black Americans created their own spaces where they could congregate and recreate safely by the water.

Fred Carr purchased 180 acres of waterfront property in 1902, and his enterprising daughters, Florence Sparrow and Elizabeth Carr, later turned the waterfront property into thriving resorts for Black beachgoers. “The Beaches’ were a stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” and were regularly included in the Green Book, a guidebook on safe, welcoming spaces for Black travelers during a time when segregation was enforced by law and custom.

Carr’s and Sparrow’s Beaches hosted some of the most famous musical performers of the mid-20th Century, including Ella Fitzgerald, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sarah Vaughn, Duke Ellington as well as numerous local artists. Sunday night concerts were broadcast to radio audiences on WANN/1190 AM with Annapolis DJ Hoppy Adams introducing the performers.

The end of segregation, the expansion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the privatization of the Chesapeake waterfront, and a host of other socioeconomic factors led to the decline of these Black-owned businesses on the Western Shore. In 1971, Anne Arundel County condemned 35.5 acres of Sparrow’s Beach to become the location of the Annapolis Water Reclamation Facility. Much of the remaining land was later sold to a private developer to construct a gated condominium development.

In late 2021, the owners of the property, Bembe Beach Partnership, LLP, entered into a contract to sell the property to The Conservation Fund while Mayor Gavin Buckley gathered county, state and federal funds to take an assignment of The Conservation Fund’s contract and purchase the property for $6.45 million. Strategic partnership, public funding, and community support enabled the City to make this important acquisition.

“It was our goal to protect this property from further development,” said Mayor Gavin Buckley. “While I am personally grateful for the generous support of our partners, I know the legacy of the new park that will be created here will long outlive me and all those who contributed.”

The State of Maryland contributed $4.87 million to the purchase through multiple fund sources including through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Program Open Space (POS), with additional funding from the state legislature through the efforts of State Sen. Sarah Elfreth.

“I championed this acquisition because this land is a meaningful part of the cultural history of the city of Annapolis and the state of Maryland,” said Lt. Governor Rutherford. “As we honor the legacy of Elktonia, Sparrow’s, and Carr’s beaches, I look forward to the development of a park on this land that will offer future generations a chance to enjoy new adventures and make lasting memories.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin requested an additional $2 million in federal funding provided to the City through the National Park Service (NPS) to complete planning and design work.

“Through partnerships like the one that has brought us to this point, we are ensuring that the future of Annapolis is a story of inclusion, equality and access,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin. “ A part of the storied Elktonia, Carr’s and Sparrow’s beaches now will be a place where everyone can experience the Chesapeake Bay, learn about our shared history of racial oppression and self-determination, and build positive new chapters for generations of Marylanders. I am proud to have been able to help move this effort forward, and deeply appreciate the many partners who helped make this vision a reality.”

“It was an honor for us to help facilitate the purchase of the last remaining and undeveloped section of the historic Elktonia, Sparrow’s and Carr’s beaches so that the stories that took place here can be shared with visitors to the site for generations to come,” said Bill Crouch of The Conservation Fund. “These beaches share a rich history – one that inspires us to learn and grow as we pursue our more perfect union. We give thanks to all the visionaries and caretakers who made this outcome possible. This link to our shared past shall forever remain an important part of our community.”

“By protecting this beach, we are not only protecting a vital part of the Chesapeake Bay’s history, but we are also charting a new course for conservation in Maryland that is focused on increased public access and cultural preservation,” said Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn.

The heritage park planning and design will be performed in partnership between the City and Blacks of the Chesapeake, with assistance from the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office.

City of Annapolis | Mitchelle Stephenson |
The Conservation Fund | Josh Lynsen |
Chesapeake Conservancy | Jody Couser |