In 1940, a group of African American families began building summer homes in the area and established their new community as Columbia Beach in 1941. These families, like so many others who flocked to Shady Side at that time, wanted a waterside retreat from their homes in nearby Washington and Baltimore.
Despite their status as doctors, lawyers, and government executives, these families were barred from other communities in the area because of the racial segregation that persisted in the nation at that time. Other communities on the western shore of the Bay, including Arundel on the Bay and Highland Beach, share a similar history.
For many years beginning in the 1940s, Columbia Beach held boating regattas that attracted participants from nearby communities as well as many other Mid-Atlantic States. Trophies were presented to the winners of the races. Other ceremonies included parades and the annual crowning of Miss Columbia Beach.
While some of the early summer cottages remain, many still owned by the original families, Columbia Beach today is a mix of year-round residences and vacation homes. Expanded and updated original homes sit side-by-side with new multi-story construction. Residents are racially diverse and include young working families, retirees from Baltimore and Washington, and those who commute or telecommute to jobs near and far.
The street names, which are a mix of names of the community’s founding families and of significant names in African American history, are a daily reminder of the roots of Columbia Beach.