This pretty little town sits at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, picturesque for its lighthouse, its Victorian-era tree-lined Union Avenue, its numerous antique shops and its amazing view of the place where the Susquehanna River becomes the Chesapeake Bay.
Originally the home of the Susquehannocks, the area was settled by its first Europeans in 1658. The town was known then as Harmer's Town and soon became the location of a river ferry that operated for 170 years. The ferry made it an important crossroads, but the town's growth didn't really take off until after the Revolutionary War. French soldiers lovingly compared the place to Le Havre back home and from that came its new name. Havre de Grace grew quickly and was even considered as a possible site for the United States' new capital. But some swampy place later called Washington, D.C., was chosen instead. The town was pounded during the War of 1812 but recovered and grew again with the coming of the railroad and a famous racetrack where the legendary Sea Biscuit, Man O' War and Citation once ran. When the racetrack closed, the town shrank.It remains a crossroads, for the trains racing across the river, for the barges carrying stone down the bay, for all the people speeding along I-95. But the lucky ones stop in Havre de Grace. Havre de Grace is best seen at a leisurely pace. There is a lot to see: six museums, focusing mostly on various aspects of the town's maritime history, wonderful water views, pretty small town streets. There is a lot to do, too: shop in the interesting little stores, take a boat ride on a skipjack or paddle wheeler, venture out in a sailboat or kayak, walk along the half-mile promenade to (or from) the lighthouse or take the trail along the river or hike to the Conowingo Dam in nearby Susquehanna State Park.
You could sail into Havre de Grace from the lower Chesapeake Bay. Most people, however, drive here. It's only four minutes off I-95 at exit 89 (Route 155.) Take Route 155 east and go under the Route 40 bridge (unless you want to stop at one of the many chain hotels along Route 40). Turn right onto Juniata Street, left on Eire Street, right on Water Street and you're headed into town along the water's edge. Parking is available on the street, at the parks, museums and at each end of the promenade.
Contact the Havre de Grace Office of Tourism & Visitor Center, 450 Pennington Avenue, Havre de Grace, Maryland 21078 800/851-7756 or 410/939-2100. Or check their website for maps, calendars and sightseeing information at www.hdgtourism.com or stop at the Chesapeake House visitors center on I-95 to pick up brochures.
What to See and Do
Lots of visitors to Havre de Grace come just for the wonderful water views - which you can see from the promenade, the parks and several restaurants and just walking down the street. The town's city elders have made those views so easy to see. The Millard E. Tydings Memorial Park has room for a picnic. Bring your fishing rod to the Frank J. Hutchins Memorial Park.
The promenade (also called the Boardwalk), which takes pedestrians on a half-mile route along the southeast edge of town, was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Isabel, except for a small area near the lighthouse, in fall 2003. Town leaders expect it to be rebuilt by the end of summer 2004. All the museums adjacent to the promenade were spared.
The promenade starts (or ends) at the Concord Point Lighthouse and winds through wetlands and along the shore to Tydings Park. Along the way, visitors can stop at the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum or the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum. (More on those later.) There are lots of benches and decks for watching the ducks or sailboats, too.
The town has six museums, although two are actually right outside of town. They are small and take only an hour or two to walk through and admission is downright cheap. In fact, an adult can visit all six for a total of $10. Hours are limited to the weekends for all of them, except the decoy museum, which opens every day. All are usually open weekends May to October 1pm to 5pm. Don't miss the Susquehanna Museum of Havre de Grace at the Lock House, (817 Conisteo St., 410/939-5780, http://users.erols.com/susqmuseum/Index.html to see an 1840 lock tender's home, right on the river. Concord Point Lighthouse, Concord and Lafayette Streets (P.O. Box 212), 410/939-9040 sits at one end of the promenade and is one of the oldest continuously-operating lighthouses on the East Coast. Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, (100 Lafayette St., 410/939-4800 also on the promenade, focuses on the town's maritime commerce and is home to the popular Chesapeake Wooden Boat Builders School where students are taught how to build and restore the bay's wooden boats on Tuesday evenings. Havre de Grace Decoy Museum (215 Giles St., 410/939-3739, www.decoymuseum.com is popular with hunters and decoy fans, especially an exhibit entitled "Gunning the Flats" and the full size figures of R. Madison Mitchell, one of the area's best known carvers. He's displayed as if in his workshop and in a recreation of a photo by the famous Baltimore photographer Aubrey Bodine. It's open almost every day 11am-4pm.
These two historic sites are outside of town but worth the drive:
Steppingstone Museum, 461 Quaker Bottom Road, off Route 155. (888/419-1762 or 410/939-2299, www.steppingstonemuseum.org celebrates the area's agricultural history with its farmhouse, blacksmith shop and general store. It is open weekends May-Oct, 1-5pm $2 adults, free for children 12 and under.
The Historic Area at Susquehanna State Park is home to the Rock Run Grist Mill, built it 1794, the Toll House (now an information center for the park) and the Rock Run House. It's off Route 155, three miles northwest of Havre de Grace.(410/557-7994, www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/susquehanna.html. The park is open 9 am-sunset, historic buildings open only weekends Memorial Day-Labor Day
Tours and Boat Rides
There are a couple of interesting boats available to tour the area by water. The skipjack Martha Lewis, 410/939-4078 or visit www.skipjackmarthalewis.org docked at the foot of Congress Street, offers 75-minute rides most weekends May-mid-Oct. The Lantern Queen ( 410/287-7217 or visit www.lanternqueen.com docked next to the Martha Lewis at the foot of Congress Avenue offers two-hour sunset cruises on Friday and Saturday and a later moonlight cruise on Friday night. A-Tours, Inc., (888-416-TOURS or 410/939-1133 or visit www.atours.net has the sightseeing answer for all you landlubbers. In neat white vans, tour guides offer local history while cruising the streets of Havre de Grace and surrounding countryside. One tour offers a glimpse into the area's stops on the Underground Railroad.
Havre de Grace is close enough to both Baltimore and Wilmington for it to be a day trip destination but it's a charming place for a weekend getaway, too.
Since Havre de Grace is just down Route 40 from the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a military installation, there are plenty of chain hotels nearby, such as the Best Western (410/679-9700, Days Inn (410/272-8500, and Four Points Sheraton (410/346-3612. A handful of bed-and-breakfasts and an inn in Havre de Grace offer a charming alternative. Currier House, 800 S. Market St. 800/827-2889, 410/939-7886, www.currier-bb.com is just a few steps from the promenade, the farmhouse is cozy and comfortably furnished. Two rooms have waterviews.Spencer Silver Mansion (200 S. Union Ave, 800/780-1485, 410/939-1097, www.spencersilvermansion.com offers grand Victorian style at good prices on one of Havre de Grace's most elegant streets. The Crazy Swede (400 N. Union Ave., 410/939-5440, fax 410/939-8020 www.crazyswederestaurant.com focuses on comfort, with every unit a spacious suite. Babe Ruth once stayed in the main building. Vandiver Inn, 301 S. Union Ave, 800/245-1655, 410/939-5200, fax 410/939-5202 www.vandiverinn.com a Victorian mansion on the National Register of Historic Places, has rooms in all sizes, including a honeymoon suite with fireplace and whirlpool tub.
Havre de Grace has several cozy little restaurants, some with a waterview. These include MacGregors Restaurant and Tavern (331 St. John St., 800/300-6319, 410/939-3003 www.macgregorsrestaurant.com a waterview seafood restaurant-fun and casual. The Crazy Swede (400 N. Union Ave, Havre de Grace 21078 410/939-5440, fax 410-939-8020 www.crazyswederestaurant.com focuses on European style dining, with seafood and beef dishes and an extensive wine list in a quiet, elegant setting. Tidewater Grille (300 Foot of Franklin Street 410/939-3313, fax 410/939-4860) sits right out on the water with a view as good as anything you're going to eat. And the seafood is fresh and well-prepared.
Outdoors lovers have been coming to Havre de Grace to hunt waterfowl, fish and sail for ages. It's a great boating destination, nowhere near as busy as Annapolis or St. Michael's. Hikers should check out the trails up the Susquehanna to the Conowingo Dam.
Havre de Grace has boat ramps at Millard E. Tydings Memorial Park, Frank J. Hutchins Memorial Park and Jean Roberts Memorial Parks. Tidewater Marina (410/939-0950, www.tidewatermarina.com at the foot of Bourbon Street has transient slips and a marine supplies store.Experienced sailors might want to charter a yacht from BaySail (100 Bourbon St., 410/939-2869, www.baysail.net for a weekend or a daysailer for a couple of hours or a whole day.Never sailed? BaySail also has three-day sailing courses that can be taken over a long weekend or on consecutive weekends.
The Susquehanna Flats are too shallow for keeled sailboats and too much trouble for most powerboaters but those five and six-foot depths are perfect for kayakers. The water is fresh and clean here where the Susquehanna flows into the Chesapeake. And there's lots to see. In a sea kayak, you can make Battery or Sand Island in half an hour, in a recreational kayak it might take an hour. The really ambitious might like the ride from up near the Conowingo Dam to Havre de Grace. It's pretty rocky near the dam (though the fishing's good, we hear) but it's a picturesque three-mile run to the bay. Lots of folks just enjoy paddling across the Susquehanna to Perryville. If you'd like to try kayaking, stop by Starrk Moon Kayaks (500 Warren Street, 877/KAYAKS1 or 410/939-9500, www.starrkmoon.com. Make a reservation if you need a couple of boats on a summer weekend just to be sure they'll be ready.
Trails through Susquehanna State Park offer pretty views of the Susquehanna River, as well as all those bridges crossing it. They are open to hikers, bikers, horseback riders and cross country skiers (if there's enough snow, of course.) If you go by way of the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenways Trail, it's possible to walk to the dam-and that's quite a sight. The huge concrete dam holds back the Susquehanna so that this mighty river is reduced to a very shallow, rocky river bed. You can drive over the dam but the best view is from the lower river side. The view is better standing still than driving 40 miles an hour anyway. A new trail, the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, is slowly being developed to give hikers an opportunity to walk from Havre de Grace to the Conowingo Dam, a three-mile trek. Only a few parts of it are done yet. When complete, hikers can walk from Havre de Grace to the dam, across it and down the river to Perryville.
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