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The Henry Hotel’s History in Ocean City Md

Henry House Ocean City
The Henry Hotel

You may have walked past it many times, paying no attention, but The Henry Hotel on 101 South Division Street in Ocean City, next to the bus station and across from Trimper’s Rides, has a long and often painful history in Ocean City, and tells of a time that thankfully is in our past.

Segregated Ocean City  

OCDC’s Walking Tour of Downtown Ocean City Md tells us  “Henry’s Colored Hotel,” as it was formerly known, is the last surviving hotel to serve only African-American visitors. Charles Henry and his wife Louisa purchased the 20-room hotel in 1926, when access to the beach and businesses for what was then called the “colored” population was severely restricted. 

Henry House Ocean City

Duke Ellington, Count Basie & Others Stayed Here

The hotel was built around 1895 by Mr. and Mrs Henry, and was a full service facility catering to visiting African-American tourists and entertainers. Famous black entertainers like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Willie Harmon came to Ocean City in those days and performed at Ocean City establishments such as the Pier Ballroom nearby.  Although they performed at these local establishments, they were not actually permitted to sleep in the hotels in which they performed. They stayed, instead, at Henry’s Hotel during these years of strict segregation.

Henry House Ocean City

“Colored Excursion Days”

Up until the mid 20th century, the Ocean City beach was restricted for African Americans with reserved periods, known as “Colored Excursion Days” in effect. Before the 1960s, Black people could only roam the beach and boardwalk freely on “Colored Excursion Days”. (Maryland, Delaware and Virginia each reserved one day a year after the summer season had ended for this).  At other times during the summer, African American’s were relegated to the beach beyond the northern end of the boardwalk, far from the center and hustle and bustle of the resort. 

Henry House Ocean City

Henry Hotel Named Heritage Landmark

In 1942, Charles T. Henry died, and his wife Louisa continued to operate the hotel until 1951 when it passed on to their son, Charles Wesley Henry. In 2007, the property was named one of four African American heritage landmarks on the Lower Eastern Shore and the hotel remains under African-American ownership today.

Henry House Ocean City

Segregated Beaches Ruled Unconstitutional in 1955

According to a Baltimore Sun article on Ocean City’s Long History of Segregation, after the Supreme Court ruled that the concept of “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, they also ruled that a segregated beach was also unconstitutional.  According to the same article, Pierre Salinger, President John F. Kennedy’s press secretary called off a planned trip to Ocean City in 1961 because African American guests were not welcomed in his hotel.  After protests and continued unlawful segregation, it appears that African Americans had enjoyed all areas of Ocean City without incident by 1964.

Jessica Waters, the current Communications & Marketing Director for the Town of Ocean City was quoted in this Baltimore Sun article with a much more welcoming and inclusive message: “While we cannot undo Ocean City’s past, we can continue to learn from it,” wrote Jessica Waters, a city spokesperson, in an email. “We are committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive community that welcomes all visitors throughout the year. Our beach town offers all visitors an opportunity to come here and relax, unwind and enjoy a fun, safe and welcoming environment.”

Visit the Henry Hotel

The Henry Hotel has an important story to tell of life in the not so distant past in Ocean City and the USA in general. It’s also rumored to be haunted, but whether you believe in such things or not, a visit to the Henry Hotel next time you are here, will help you learn more about Ocean City’s history and segregated past.

Henry’s Hotel stands vacant today at the corner of Baltimore and South Division Street.  

Anne
Anne
Anne grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland, and came across Ocean City for the first time over 30 years ago and shortly after it became her permanent home.  When time allows, Anne still loves to travel. She has been with OceanCity.com since September 2014.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Is it possible to do a follow up on the hotel and see the owner’s future plans. I heard it was actually owned by the daughters and was possibly going to become a museum. Any truth to that?

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