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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Historic Part of Black Culture, Former Beach Saved from Development in Annapolis

The City of Annapolis co-hosted a deed transfer ceremony of waterfront property with the Annapolis, Maryland-based Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation (BOCF) on Friday, August 12, 2022. Principal partners participated in the event that occurred at BayWoods of Annapolis continuing care retirement community which is adjacent to Elktonoia Beach.

The project will “share the important African American history and culture of the former Elktonia, Carr’s and Sparrow’s beaches,” according to a press release. The City now holds the deed to one of the last undeveloped Chesapeake Bay waterfront properties in trust which is a five-acre site. The historical significance of saving local Black beaches and culture has been officially recognized.

“It was our goal to protect this property from further development,” Annapolis’ Mayor Gavin Buckley said in a press release. “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 site that was spared from development was private waterfront property with infamous roots. It was formerly a part of the Carr family’s 180 acres of Black-owned beachfront located in Annapolis. Carr purchased it in 1902. Afterwards, Florence Sparrow and Elizabeth Carr, who were his forward-thinking  daughters, seized an opportunity to create a Black business. The waterfront parcel evolved into a popular recreational and entertainment destination resorts. Black beachgoers came from near and far to enjoy sand and musical sounds during the days of segregation.

In its heyday, Ella Fitzgerald; Chuck Berry; James Brown; Stevie Wonder; Sarah Vaughn; and Duke Ellington were among well-known artists who once performed at Carr’s Beach. WANN/1190 AM Annapolis DJ C.W. “Hoppy” Adams Jr. broadcasted his show remotely from Carr’s Beach on Sundays for radio audiences.

Vincent Leggett, the founder and president of the Annapolis-based BOCF, explained that the recent signing ceremony was memorializing the transfer of the title of the five-acre Elktonia beach site. According to a press release, Bembe Partnership, LLP –the last owners— “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.”

Vince Leggett, founder and president of the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation, holds up his pen during a signing ceremony at Elktonia-Carr’s Beach, a new public heritage park in Annapolis, Md., on Aug. 12, 2022. The 5.17-acre shoreline property was once owned and operated by Frederick Carr and his family as a popular destination and venue for Black visitors and entertainers from 1926 to the late 1960s. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

The collaborative effort was comprised of the state of Maryland, the City of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, and BOCF.  Fifteen years ago, BOCF began conversations and negotiations with Theo Rogers, who is the chairman and chief executive officer of A & R Development Corporation. The businessman planned to build up to 40 townhouses on the five-acre tract where Elktonia is located, according to Leggett. The BOCF’s founder proposed that his 501(c)3 organization that he leads to preserve and share the Chesapeake Bay region’s Black culture could have a limited use agreement of the site. Leggett wanted to designate use of it for historical cultural, environmental, and educational programs while A & R Development Corporation was subdividing property. Leggett lacked funds to acquire the property, but not vision. He explained that Rogers ultimately provided Mayor Buckley and a team with a window of opportunity to purchase the land for conservation purposes. The outcome was better than a temporary plan.

 “The governor’s office and the state of Maryland granted the Blacks of the Chesapeake, a non-government community-based foundation, a grant of $1.2 million from the Playground and Infrastructure program toward the exclusive purchase of the property,” Leggett said. “And the reason that is so significant is because the Blacks of the Chesapeake was one of the organizations that purchased the land, so it will always be in perpetuity. In addition, the Blacks of the Chesapeake has become a steward of the property, leading the interpretation of African American life for the Chesapeake Bay, along with the City of Annapolis and the National Park Service, and all our other partners. I have found that this aspect is the most noteworthy of this entire enterprise.”

From right, Chesapeake Conservancy board chair Randy Larrimore, Chesapeake Conservancy president and CEO Joel Dunn and Chesapeake Bay Program director Kandis Boyd visit Elktonia-Carr’s Beach before a signing ceremony for the 5.17-acre shoreline property that will become a public heritage park in Annapolis, Md., on Aug. 12, 2022. The parcel was once owned and operated by Frederick Carr and his family as a popular destination and venue for Black visitors and entertainers from 1926 to the late 1960s. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) committed to providing over $3, 677, 923 in grant funding from Program Open Space (POS) Stateside combined with $1,630, 327 of supplemental POS Local funds to come from the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, per information provided by the Maryland DNR for the Board of Public Works in Annapolis,chaired by Governor Larry Hogan and Lieutenant  Governor Boyd Rutherford.

A third funding piece mentioned that U.S. Senator Ben Cardin secured $2 million in congressionally directed spending. Leggett explained that funds were appropriated for the buildout infrastructure and interpretation of the site contingent upon the purchase being consummated. He said that within a year, he expects infrastructure will be complete. In the coming months, a broader celebration of the park will occur for public attendance.

The project’s two major objectives are providing access to the Chesapeake Bay for all citizens and celebrating the accomplishments of the owners of the historical Black beaches and other significant African American sites along the Bay.

“We live in a seaport town and it’s becoming more and more difficult for people to gain access to the waterways, particularly people of limited means,” Leggett said. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult because of private or gated communities, conservation areas, military, and government institutional uses.”

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