By Susan Nolan
One hundred years ago, Warren G. Harding was President of the United States; Charlie Chaplin was Hollywood’s fastest rising star, and America was experiencing a nationwide real estate boom. Anne Arundel County was no exception. The Chesapeake Bay shoreline became a hot commodity for developers, investors, and urbanites looking for a sunny getaway. Now, the Roaring Twenties’ prosperity has led to many local waterfront communities celebrating their centennial this year—and in coming years.
South River Park in Edgewater is one such community. Located along Warehouse Creek, the community was established by C.H. Nelley, a developer who purchased the property and subdivided it into ¾-acre lots in 1921. According to the current South River Park Citizens Association, Nelley sold undeveloped lots for as little as $500. New, five-room bungalows cost between $1,650 and $3,250.
Initially, South River Park was a summer community. World War II ushered in another period of growth and by the time Edgewater Elementary School was constructed in 1953, residents were living there year-round. Today, it consists of 115 homes.
Suzanne Jaques grew up in South River Park. She and her mother Frances Jaques still live there. While residing in Silver Spring in 1958, her parents visited the community to go ice skating but fell in love with the area and decided to build a home. “There was always a lot of activity,” says Suzanne. She recalls ice skating on the river into the 1970s and her sister being on the neighborhood swim team.
Venice Beach and Highland Beach are also celebrating 100 years, but their origins as waterfront communities can be traced back to 1893 when Charles Douglass, son of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, purchased almost 27 acres along the Chesapeake Bay. He turned his property into an enclave for family and friends. In 1922, Highland Beach was incorporated, making it the first African American municipality in Maryland.
That same year, Osborn T. Taylor purchased an adjacent 13.3 acres. He named the property Venice Beach and subdivided it for development. Highland and Venice Beaches became collectively known as “the Beach” and for decades they served as the premier summer recreation destination for middle class African Americans.
Today, Venice Beach consists of 50 homes. Some are summer residences and others are occupied year-round. Nancy Bowman-Williams serves as the Venice Beach Citizens Association President. She was introduced to “the Beach” by her late husband, Dr. Roland Williams, who had visited there as a child. “An avid boater and fisherman, he set his sights on owning waterfront property early in his life and was fortunate enough to find the property where I now reside,” she says.
Bowman-Williams describes Venice Beach as quiet and family-oriented. As with South River Park and Highland Beach, many of the current homeowners inherited property from previous generations.
Ark-Haven (sometimes written as Arkhaven) in southern Anne Arundel County is just one more neighborhood that turns 100 this year. This Bayfront community near Tracys Landing celebrated with a party in late September on the community grounds.