Highland Beach, Maryland
Highland Beach
Calendar of Meetings and Events
May 2024
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Nicholas parking
Nicholas parking
Monday, May 27, 2024 at 9:00 AM
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A Brief History of Historic Highland Beach
Young residents pose on pier, circla 1970's
Young residents pose on pier, circla 1970's

In 1892, Major Charles Douglass, youngest son of Frederick Douglass, and Charles’ wife Laura, were turned away from a restaurant at the Bay Ridge Resort and Amusement Park because of their race.  The resort was separated by a narrow channel—the mouth of Black Walnut Creek—from property owned by the Brashears, a local black family. Crossing the channel, it was through a chance encounter between a member of the Brashears family and Charles and Laura Douglass that the origins of Highland Beach are rooted. After discussions over the next several months, and with financial assistance from his father, Charles Douglass worked out an arrangement to purchase a two-thirds interest in forty acres of the original forty-eight-acre Brashears estate from two of the heirs—Daniel Brashears and Georgianna Lane. In the spring of 1893, they settled on the purchase of twenty-six and two-thirds acres of land that would become Highland Beach. And almost a century later, in 1988, Highland Beach annexed the eight-acre Dr. John E. Washington tract.

By 1894, Douglass had built the first cottage, establishing a retreat for himself and others on the Chesapeake Bay. With 600 feet of beachfront, he turned it into a summer enclave for family and friends. Frederick Douglass—famed activist for abolition and women’s suffrage, orator, publisher, diplomat and adviser to President Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the most famous black man of his time, and one of the most photographed personalities in our nation’s history—would have become a resident had he not died in 1895 before the summer home, that his son Charles was building for him, was completed.

The Town of Highland Beach became a gathering place for educated blacks, including many of the well-known blacks of the time and later years. Among the residents and guests were—Paul Robeson, concert artist and stage and film actor famous for his cultural accomplishments as well as for his political activism; Judge Robert Terrell, who served as one of the first municipal court judges in Washington, D.C., and his wife, Dr. Mary Church Terrell, one of the first African American women to earn a college degree, who became known nationally as an activist for civil rights and women’s suffrage; Booker T. Washington, author, educator, orator, and advisor to U.S. presidents; Robert Weaver, who served as the first African American appointed to a cabinet position in the federal government as the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; W.E.B. Du Bois, sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, and author; Paul Laurence Dunbar, poet, novelist, and playwright; Langston Hughes, poet, social activist, novelist, and columnist; E. Franklin Frazier, sociologist and author of the books The Negro Family in the United States (1939), and Black Bourgeoisie (1957); and later, author Alex Haley, perhaps most famously known for his ground-breaking book Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976), that became a national sensation as a television production.

When Highland Beach was incorporated in 1922, it became the first African American municipality in Maryland.  It is also believed to be the first African American summer resort in the United States. Although founded as a summer resort, it is now a town of both summer and year-round residents who choose not to permit commercial establishments.  There are approximately 80 homes, many of them still owned and occupied by descendants of the original settlers.  The residents are proud and protective of their town's heritage, established by proud and successful people determined to overcome the prejudices of their post-Reconstruction times. Highland Beach is the home of Twin Oaks, which now serves as the Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center, Inc.

Highland Beach is bordered on the north by Black Walnut Creek and the community of Bay Ridge, on the east by the Chesapeake Bay, and on the south by Oyster Creek and the community of Venice Beach. 

Highland Beach is residential only, does not offer opportunities for tourism and cannot accommodate visits from the general public.

Welcome to the Town of Highland Beach: Home Page | Mayor and Commissioners | Boards and Commissions | News | Calendar of Meetings and Events | Commissioners Meetings | Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center | Platinum Certified (Green) Town Hall | Emergency Preparedness | Charter, Ordinances and Other Documents | Applications and Forms, Contact Us | Highland Beach Citizens Association | Resources—Anne Arundel County and more
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