Protecting Maryland’s Historic Black Beaches
Over time, most of those beaches were developed into various housing and industry projects as the city grew. But one sliver of undisturbed land remained: a five-acre waterfront parcel known as Elktonia Beach. And when an opportunity came along to permanently conserve the property so that a heritage park might help the region forever remember the land’s importance, The Conservation Fund was there.
The Conservation Fund partnered with the City of Annapolis and the State of Maryland along with Chesapeake Conservancy to protect the 5-acre Elktonia property for its historic and cultural importance.
In late 2021, we began working with the owners of the property and the city to negotiate purchase of the site while Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley gathered $6.45 million from county, state and federal sources to complete the acquisition in August 2022. This collaboration was the first step in advancing the city’s vision to preserve the site as a heritage park with public access to the Bay, by assuming long-term stewardship and maintenance of the property.
Funding sources for this project included Maryland’s Land and Water Conservation Fund grant program, the Maryland Stateside Open Space program, the city of Annapolis and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, among others. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland secured $2 million in Congressionally Directed Spending specifically for this project.
WHY IT MATTERS
The cultural and historical importance of Elktonia Beach — along with the adjoining lands of Sparrow’s Beach and Carr’s Beach — cannot be overstated. For nearly half a century, these beaches hosted celebrated performers such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Chuck Berry. Between the 1930s and 1960s, Black families from across the Mid-Atlantic region that were turned away for recreation elsewhere spent their days swimming, boating and picnicking and their nights dancing to the music of legends at Elkonia Beach.
With the property deeded to the city of Annapolis to become a new waterfront heritage community park, Elktonia Beach will next be part of a community conversation and envisioning as local leaders and partners determine the best way the land can be presented. Blacks of the Chesapeake, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the Chesapeake Bay region’s Black culture, will help to activate the park through educational programming and stewardship.
© Maryland State Archives/Thomas R. Baden, Jr.
“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. 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.”
—Bill Crouch, The Conservation Fund Maryland representative
AT A GLANCE
- On July 21, 1956, an estimated 70,000 people traveled to Elktonia Beach to hear Chuck Berry perform.
- This conservation effort attracted roughly $6.45 million of funding, both locally and nationally.
Maryland State Director, Conservation Acquisition