Town connecting with Maryland counterpart
By Rich Pollack
William Sanders III was traveling from his home in Maryland to a conference in Boca Raton more than a decade ago when he was caught off guard by a sign for Highland Beach.
“I was surprised because I didn’t know there was another Highland Beach,” said Sanders, who has been the mayor of the tiny town of Highland Beach, Maryland, for the past 14 years. “This was well before the time when we began to Google everything.”
Years passed and Sanders heard little more about Highland Beach, Florida, until a few months ago when he received an introduction letter from the southern Highland Beach’s mayor and commissioners that has now sparked a pen-pal relationship of sorts.
“It was nice and heartwarming,” Sanders said. “I was moved personally as were other members of the town’s board of commissioners.”
In response, Sanders sent a letter back along with a copy of a book that explains the rich history of the town he has lived in for more than 20 years: Highland Beach on the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland’s First African American Incorporated Town.
Founded in 1893 by Charles Douglass, the youngest son of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and incorporated in 1922, Highland Beach, Maryland, is believed to be the first African American beach resort in the country.
Two streets by four streets, the town near Annapolis has just 68 homes and around 100 full-time residents, about 75% of whom are African American.
Like its same-named community in Florida, Highland Beach, Maryland, has a seasonal population — but during opposite times of the year — and like its southern counterpart, the Maryland community is a town without a stoplight.
Sanders says the town grows to about 300 residents during the summer.
While Highland Beach, Florida, has its library as a cultural gathering point, Highland Beach, Maryland, is home to the Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center, housed in a summer home built for Douglass, but one he never had a chance to live in before his death.
Among some of the well-known figures in history and entertainment to have had homes in the Maryland town were Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, singer and actor Paul Robeson, writer and poet Langston Hughes and author Alex Haley.
The idea to start a long-distance relationship between the two towns with the same name came from Highland Beach, Florida, Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman.
“I just thought it would be a feel-good idea to make contact and to have communications between two cities with the same name,” she said. “We have some broad similarities even through we’re situated on different latitudes.”
Town Manager Marshall Labadie said the Florida town is sending a book outlining some of its history to leaders in the Maryland community and that he hopes to visit the town when he is in the area.
“There’s a wealth of history there and I would love to learn more,” he said. “With all the commotion going on in the world, it’s good to share our sense of community and history.”
Both Sanders and Highland Beach, Florida, Mayor Doug Hillman say they too are interested in visiting their same-named counterpart communities and hope residents from the other Highland Beach will come and visit.
“I’m hoping that when anyone from Highland Beach, Florida, is in the area, they come to visit,” Sanders said.