OCEAN CITY – A $250,000 grant will allow a local nonprofit to begin the restoration of the historic Henry Hotel.
On Wednesday, the Maryland Board of Public Works approved $5 million in African American Heritage Preservation Program funding to 24 projects and organizations across the state.
Among the recipients was the Henry Hotel Foundation, an Ocean City nonprofit dedicated to the restoration of the Henry Hotel. A $250,000 grant will allow the foundation to begin exterior rehabilitation projects at the site.
“This will be the very first phase of getting a new foundation built for the restoration of the hotel,” said Nancy Howard, foundation president. “Right now, it is sitting on the ground. There’s no foundation. So this money will help us build a much needed foundation and go onto the next phase, sealing the building and roof.”
During Wednesday’s board meeting, Gov. Wes Moore praised the foundation’s efforts to restore an iconic landmark in Ocean City. He said the project brings the foundation one step closer to creating a museum and learning center highlighting African American history within the resort.
“It’s going to support their efforts of being able to turn the building into not just a hotel and refurbished building but also into a museum, into a learning center, a place where people can learn about the history of African Americans on the shore and all throughout the state and also just understand the African American contribution to the town’s development,” he said. “And despite the fact of suffering years and decades and generations of discrimination, that just as the hotel received its refurbishing, that it’s also helping to tell the story of ‘despite it all, still I rise.’”
The Henry Hotel is one of a few 19th century structures remaining in Ocean City. Located on the corner of South Division Street and South Baltimore Avenue, the building was purchased by Charles T. Henry, a Black businessman from Berlin, in 1926 and opened as “Henry’s Colored Hotel” the following year. Following Henry’s death in 1942, his widow continued to operate the hotel until it was sold in the 1950s. Its last owner, Pearl Bonner, operated the hotel until the 1990s. Upon her death in 2003, the property passed to her children.
The Henry Hotel Foundation was recently created in an effort to restore the building and to establish a museum and learning center that honors the life of Bonner and reflects on the history of African Americans in Ocean City. Howard said that once exterior and interior rehabilitation projects are complete, exhibits will be added.
“On the first floor will be a museum that focuses on Mrs. Bonner and her family,” she said. “It will also highlight the condition of the Black population during a time when they weren’t even allowed on the beach, even though they were the men and women who kept the hotels and motels clean and prepared the food … That whole experience, it’s not our finest moment but it’s something to learn from and something we hope to never repeat.”
Howard said the foundation will also collect stories from community members who may have a memory of or connection to the Henry Hotel. She said those wishing to share their recollections can email [email protected].
When asked about the timeline for the hotel’s restoration, Howard said projects could begin as early as next fall. She said the nonprofit will work with a local company to lift the building in order for a foundation to be built. From there, work will begin on the windows and roof.
“I’ve often said it’s a miracle that the building, being where it is, hasn’t floated away or blown away,” she said.
Howard said the nonprofit is accepting donations for the restoration project. She said contributions can be sent to the Henry Hotel Foundation, P.O. Box 3333, Ocean City, MD 21843.
The Henry Hotel restoration is one of several projects in 15 state jurisdictions being funded through a grant administered jointly by the Maryland Historical Trust and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture. During Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, Moore thanked Maryland Historical Trust staff for reviewing the 107 applications and selecting the 24 grant recipients.
“We’re really excited about this, and the goal is critically important,” he said. “It’s to identify and preserve buildings and communities and sites of historical and cultural importance to the African American experience in the state of Maryland. The board is being asked to approve funding for projects that include community centers and fraternity halls, historic churches and cemeteries, historic houses, a fire house, a historic funeral home and also a historic hotel.”
Maryland Comptroller Brooke Lierman echoed Moore’s statements, noting the grant’s critical role in preserving African American history in Maryland.
“This is a really phenomenal day to see this money go out to incredible projects …,” she said. “This is a crucial program administered jointly by the Maryland Historical Trust and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture. These 24 projects are incredible examples of sites that are associated with cultural and historical significance to our African American community.”