OLD ORCHARD BEACH (AP) – Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton – all big names in the world of jazz – played in Old Orchard Beach during the heyday of the town’s bustling pier.

But they weren’t necessarily welcome to stay at local inns.

In an era when segregation did not stop at the Mason-Dixon line, big-name performers and other blacks visiting Maine often stayed in places like a converted farmhouse in Old Orchard beach.

Last month, the guest house at 110 Portland Ave., was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Ann Cummings Searcy, whose mother, Rose, ran the guest house, smiles proudly when reminded that her childhood home is now a national landmark. Some of her fondest memories of the place involve Duke Ellington, whose autographed photo still hangs in her room, and his bandmates.

“They would always call me and let me know when they were coming to New England,” the 78-year-old Searcy recalled. “And I never would have to pay a penny to go see the band.”

Accommodations were Spartan, but the hospitality was great. So was the food – lobster salads, fried chicken, and every Sunday morning, the proprietor’s beloved mackerel and beans.

Searcy now lives in Portland. Her childhood home has been purchased by a physician from Washington, D.C., who used to stay with her family at the guest house when she was a girl.

Restoring the porch where Countee Cullen, a poet and a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement, once sat is a priority for the home’s new owner, who plans to use it as a summer house.

She isn’t planning many changes to the seven guest rooms upstairs, where visitors used to hang their clothes on rods, since Rose Cummings was worried that closets would attract cockroaches.

The kitchen, which has been significantly remodeled since Old Orchard Beach’s heyday, is where the biggest changes will be made. Cynthia Howard, a Biddeford architect involved in the renovation, hopes to start the project this fall.

Howard said the project would have been less feasible without the home’s listing on the National Register.

“We would have to change the character of this house to meet today’s codes,” she said. “You’d almost think to start over, and that would be a real shame, I think.”

Searcy, who has lost five of her six siblings, is happy that her old house is in good hands.

“I was so glad that we sold it. I was afraid it was going to rot,” she said.


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