In rural, southern Prince George’s County, just north of the County line, the cottage community of Eagle Harbor quietly nestles along the Patuxent River with a full-time population of about 65 residents who enjoy the tranquility of the historically black beach town.
Eagle Harbor, the smallest municipality in the County, will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2019, and the town officials are planning to “do everything a bit bigger” throughout the year with fireworks on the Fourth of July, a gala/scholarship awards dinner in April, and a black history program.
The town population swells to about 150 people in the summers as the part-timers flock to their second homes to take advantage of the water access for fishing and boating. And while interest in the community is growing with the help of active social media accounts and word of mouth, the mayor wants to be sure the growth does not turn into large-scale development.
“We aren’t interested in being big with a lot of traffic,” Mayor James Crudup said. “We don’t want to be a big busy beach town. We want to be the Maybury of Prince George’s County.”
Trueman Point, a river port used by farmers in the 1700s for shipping tobacco, lies on the northeast end of what was developed into Eagle Harbor. From the 1800s into the 1930s, the point was home to a tobacco warehouse built by the Weems Steamboat company, and was a major stop for steamboats heading up the Patuxent River.
Purchased by Eagle Harbor a few years ago, Trueman Point, just north of the fishing pier in Eagle Harbor, is a Prince George’s County-designated Historic Site. To access the point, residents have a key to the park (nonresidents can get access for a nominal donation), which features a fishing pier and sandy boat ramp. The point itself is just north of the pier, beyond the tall river grass, and lined with sand. In its heyday, the beach area would be busy with swimmers and fisherman, but today the mayor warns that the water might not be the safest for swimming.
But in 1925, the draw to the swimming beach was exactly what one developer counted on.
Walter L. Bean bought large plots along the river, subdivided the land with the vision of creating a black resort town, and marketed his neighborhood to middle-class and wealthy blacks in Washington, D.C., as an escape from the city within a short drive.
“Eagle Harbor is an important example that survives today of an African-American community that developed during segregation. The community was designed specifically as a retreat for African-Americans,” according to the town’s Historic District Evaluation.
As people began to build cottages, the Citizens Association pushed for official incorporation, and on March 8, 1929, Eagle Harbor became the County’s smallest town with its own elected governing body.
“I first came here in 1963 with a buddy I worked with,” said Mayor James Crudup. “He turned out to be the mayor at the time. He owned the store in town and had asked me to come help him with the store for a weekend. He told me to buy a house here. But It was either buy a house in Eagle Harbor or buy a new corvette. And I enjoyed that corvette.”
Part-time residents and visitors flocked to Eagle Harbor during segregation when you could purchase a home on the water for an affordable price.
Several years later, Crudup returned with his wife and her parents to purchase a home in the tight-knit community. And, for the past eight years, the part-time resident has been mayor of Eagle Harbor.
Today, the residences remain on private wells and septic, but the community artesian well has finally run dry. The artesian well was an affordable source of water since many early founders could not afford their own wells. The site has served as a de facto gathering place since the town’s inception. To honor the history of the artesian well, the town commissioners recently erected a memorial site honoring founders John T. Stewart, John B. Anderson, Levi Woodson, Joseph Wade, and Marie Hardwick.
The streets remain narrow and without sidewalks. The hotel and most of the houses from the 1920s are gone, replaced by $200,000 cottages along the river.
The board of commissioners and an active Citizens Association are on schedule to achieve the Town vision of becoming the “Paradise on the Patuxent.” With the help of grants secured the sponsorship of State Senator Miller, Delegate Susie Proctor, County Councilman Mel Franklin, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and private donations from companies including neighboring Chalk Point Generating Station, the commissioners have big plans. “We’ve been very blessed to get the money we need,” Crudup said.
The mayor and commissioners created a Sustainable Community Action Plan in 2017 that outlined their goals for the town. “We knew from the very beginning the focus had to be on financial stability, economic development, public safety, and the environment.”
To ensure the town’s sustainability, the town hopes to focus its revenue generation on drawing tourists to the 9.3-acre historic Trueman Point through the following enhancements:
- Constructing a 200-seat pavilion on the water for bands and entertainment
- Drawing a sit-down, seasonal restaurant
- Converting the sand boat ramp into a permanent, concrete ramp and charge for use
- Offering bike, canoe, and paddleboat rentals
- Purchasing a pontoon boat and charge for rides on weekends
- Building an educational pier through a partnership with a school district for students to learn about the ecosystems
A retired engineering manager for NSA, Mayor Crudup says his work at Eagle Harbor might be coming to an end.
“This work takes a lot of time and energy. Maybe it’s time for someone else to step up with new energy,” he said. He says this will likely be his last term, but the commissioners and residents keep encouraging him to run again. “But then you always wonder: What’s going to happen if I stop? Has what I accomplished going to be for naught?”