Having a Ball in Havre de Grace
Situated at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay, Havre de Grace is an enchanting maritime town with a rich history worth exploring.
R. Madison “Mitch” Mitchell Jr. has lived in Havre de Grace all of his 85 years and, if the traveler is lucky, is the person manning the front desk at the Havre de Grace Visitors Center. A model train enthusiast, he built in incredible detail a replica of the entire town that is on display at the center. An audio recording linked to the display recounts the history of Havre de Grace both before and after what was likely the town’s most significant and dramatic event – the British naval raid, led by Rear Admiral George Cockburn, in 1813.
Make the Visitors Center the first stop on a walking tour to learn about the town’s history before and after the War of 1812 and then proceed to the Promenade, which is located on the southernmost part of downtown Havre de Grace. Parking is plentiful at the town dock, and the Promenade walking trail leads walkers on a waterfront tour of the Susquehanna River Flats (which average only 4 feet in depth).
A historic, three-story stone structure called The Bayou sits atop the hill overlooking the water. Built in 1918 as a lavish hotel, it has been used in several ways, including as an apartment building and as a senior home for women, before suffering a notable fire. Now it is home to high-end condos with some of the most desirable views in town.
The Promenade leads to the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, which Mitchell said is a necessary stop on a town tour. Afterall, Havre de Grace is known as the “Decoy Capital of the World” and for many years was recognized as a prime location for hunting waterfowl. The two-story museum is full of decoy and shotgun history. Plan to spend about an hour of the day here to read about the history of waterfowl hunting and rural life.
Past the Decoy Museum is the Maritime Museum and, beyond that lies the Concord Point Lighthouse and Keeper’s House Museum. The latter provides a pleasant and informative jaunt through not only the maritime history of the region, but also the cultural heritage of the people who have lived and worked the Upper Chesapeake throughout history, hosting an impressive display of handpicked artifacts.
Concord Point Lighthouse, built in 1827, is the oldest publicly accessible lighthouse on the Bay. It’s a picturesque area, perfect for a picnic lunch or as a place to take a break. The Keeper’s House Museum is located across the street and tells the story of the lighthouse keeper before electronic controls.
The best part about visiting Havre de Grace isn’t necessarily its museums or noted points of interest, but rather its affable combination of small town charm, nautical character, and ambience reminiscent of New England. Standing at the top of Washington Street in the downtown shopping corridor, there are no chain restaurants in sight. Small, independent shops and restaurants help this town – once under consideration to be the United States capital – maintain its character.
This walkable town sports a beautiful library in the middle of its downtown, as well as a centrally-located hospital. Tree-lined streets with historic homes – many of historical significance – are around every turn, and locals seem friendly and happy to chat. Consider touring the town by bicycle to get a better look at the beautifully decorated homes.
Havre de Grace got its name from Marquis de Lafayette, who in 1782 wrote how impressed he was by the town’s resemblance to Le Havre, France. As a result, the citizens changed its name from Susquehanna Lower Ferry to Havre de Grace.
Incorporated as a city in 1785. Burned to the ground by the British during the War of 1812.
Baltimore is only 35 miles away; NYC is only 140. Current population (as of 2017): 13,527.