Havre de Grace, Md.
Havre de Grace, Md.
Boaters cruising the Upper Chesapeake are discovering Havre de Grace, a quaint 18th-century Maryland port situated where the Susquehanna River flows into the Bay.
Havre de Grace, named after Le Havre, France, owes its existence and prosperity to its location. By the mid-1800s the city was a thriving transportation center connecting Bay and ocean with inland communities via the river and canals. A century later, sport and commercial gunning of wildfowl on the Susquehanna Flats boomed. Today, Havre de Grace flourishes as an antiquing and fine-dining center.
City Yacht Basin, tucked behind Tydings Island on the Bay, anchors Millard J. Tydings Memorial Park on the waterfront just south of downtown. Havre de Grace Marina at Log Pond is to port a half-mile up the river, and just beyond is downtown Tidewater Marina. From any marina it’s only a few blocks to numerous restaurants, antique shops and maritime-oriented museums. “Havre de Grace has a slower pace and lots of neat things to see,” says local Jeff Andrews, 40, manager of Tidewater Marina and a commodore of the Havre de Yacht Club. “I always suggest that boaters first go to the visitors center on Pennington Street for information.”
Boutiques, art galleries and antique shops predominate in downtown’s Victorian buildings. Washington Street Books and Antiques stocks thousands of new and used titles. And Andrews says Tidewater has a new 10,000-square-foot marine store.
“Havre de Grace has a good selection of downtown restaurants, from sports bars to fancy cuisine,” says Gerry Frailey Jr., city dockmaster and manager of marine facilities. Boaters gather at Coakley’s Pub, Susquehanna Station and MacGregor’s Restaurant for great food and weekend live entertainment. Among other eateries downtown, La Cucina serves authentic Italian food; Tidewater Grille boasts waterfront dining; and chef-owned Laurappin Grille, St. John’s Deli and Aquatica specialize in gourmet cuisine. Everyone goes to Bomboy’s Candy and Ice Cream for snacks. Locals talk of good eats on Saturdays: the farmers’ market, fire department’s “pit beef” barbecued beef sandwiches, andthe VFW’s fish fries.
Within a mile are several restaurants on U.S. 40. Near the LockhouseMuseum is Price’s seafood, which Andrews says hasn’t changed since the 1950s. “It’s a typical old crab shack,” he says. “You sit at tables covered with butcher paper and pick through your mess of spicy peppered or Old Bay-seasoned crabs.”
Parks, fishing piers and boat ramps dot the waterfront, from North Park and its riverfront Rails to Trails hiking path to spacious TydingsPark and CityYachtBasin. From the park the planked Promenade winds a half-mile along the river past the MaritimeMuseum and DecoyMuseum to Concord Point Lighthouse and Lightkeeper’s House. Most folks stop to feed the ducks and take in the view.
The 1827 lighthouse, a 36-foot stone tower, is Maryland’s oldest in continuous operation. You can climb the 35 steps to the lantern room, just as keepers did three times a night to keep the oil lamp filled in the days before electricity.
“The lighthouse is here rather than Perryville [upstream across the river] because our shoals were charted around 1800 and our harbor is as deep as Baltimore or the C&DCanal,” says Bill McIntyre, an amateur archaeologist and president of Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse. “The government could buy only one waterfront plot for the lighthouse because Havre de Grace rented them to fishermen for income.”
The Lightkeeper’s House, on an inland lot, has been expanded several times, most recently as a restaurant with a bar and dance hall. McIntyre spearheaded the archaeological excavations when the house was restored to its appearance in 1884 Coast Guard drawings. The outline of the original 1827 house remains on the north exterior wall. Displays of lighthouse history and recovered artifacts fill the parlor. In the kitchen the 1827 hearth and foundation have been exposed, with visible marks from the 1860s and 1884 floor levels. “The artifacts from each of those levels were distinctly different,” says McIntyre.
The oldest part of town, where the watermen settled in the 1700s, surrounds the lighthouse. On higher ground stands the landmark 1926 Bayou Hotel, now condominiums. Mansions of prosperous Victorian merchants and executives line shady Union Street. Tucked behind them are lanes that were part of the underground railroad used by escaping slaves.
Jane Currier Belbot, whose 250-year- old Currier House Bed & Breakfast abuts Strawberry Lane, thinks runaways hid in a secret passageway in her home. “My great-grandfather, a ferry-boat captain, probably smuggled them across the Susquehanna to New Jersey and freedom,” she says.
Belbot also remembers her mother complaining about “all those damn ducks” Belbot’s uncle Jim Currier carved in his shop next to what is now the DecoyMuseum. “We kids used to help him by painting the eyes,” she says. “Each eye was just one dot with the brush.”
Jim Currier is one of 14 carvers profiled in the DecoyMuseum, founded by renowned carver R. Madison Mitchell and friends in 1988. Currier, like most local carvers, had a full-time job and carved utilitarian decoys in his spare time. They sold for $1.25 each.
“Those early decoys were tools that hunters used to attract ducks within range,” says Richard Flint, executive director of the museum, which offers a glimpse of Havre de Grace’s most famous industry. “These days decoys attract collectors of fine art.” He says intricately painted and carved decorative half-size and miniature decoys can fetch thousands of dollars.
“The Susquehanna Flats are Havre de Grace’s raison d’être,” he says. “Those 25,000 acres of rich sea grasses supported millions of ducks migrating through, often in 1-mile-by-6-mile flocks. Capt. John Smith records dropping 150 ducks with three shots in 1608.”
Museum exhibits begin with “What is a Decoy?” “Gunning the Flats” covers area waters, and the legal and illegal equipment used to hunt ducks by locals, sport hunters and market gunners who supplied East Coast restaurants. Flint says when waterfowl feasted on native grasses, it had a delicate flavor — different from today’s ducks that eat corn and grain in fields.
The second floor, overlooking the Susquehanna Flats, features the R. Madison Mitchell Carving Workshop and “Honoring the Masters.” In the latter, mannequins of a dozen prestigious carvers stand amid their work. “For the exhibit, each carver donated a suit of clothes and a full set of decoys,” says Flint.
On the other end of town, the Susquehanna Museum of Havre de Grace at the Lockhouse tells the city’s history from its founding in 1792. “Our most important artifacts are the first and only surviving lock of the Susquehanna and TidewaterCanal and the locktender’s house,” says museum director Rebecca Fitzgerald. “The 45-mile canal connected Havre de Grace with inland communities at Wrightsville, Pa., from 1840 to the 1920s.”
Period furnishings illustrate the locktender’s lifestyle, and other displays cover the canal’s construction and use, the railroad that superceded it, prominent resident Senator Millard Tydings, and the Havre de Grace Racetrack, a major thoroughbred horse-racing track from 1912 to 1950.
Outside the museum, volunteers are rebuilding the stone canal lock. Special events, including kite-flying contests and a re-enactment of the British attack on Havre de Grace during the War of 1812, are staged on the spacious grounds.
If you sail into Havre de Grace, you might want to sharpen your competitive edge. The Havre de Grace Yacht Club welcomes cruisers to its informal Thursday night races. Among those sailing a Star may be Arvid Scherph, owner of Havre de Grace Marina and a veteran of 15 Bermuda Races and a voyage from South Africa to Florida.
“In-season we usually have about 20 J/24s, daysailers and Stars among the 40 boats racing [off Tidewater Marina],” says Andrews. “Just come. We’ll determine a handicap if necessary.”
A place to remember local boats
Fishing skiffs, sailing scows and Star sailboats played their parts in local maritime history, as you’ll see at the Havre de GraceMaritimeMuseum.
The “Gone Fishing” exhibit shows that shoal-draft small boats were developed early for harvesting oysters, crabs, eels, shad and herring from the Susquehanna Flats and the Susquehanna River. By 1760 fishermen were harvesting spawning shad and herring by the ton, then shipping thousands of barrels to Eastern Seaboard cities. Shad, the poor man’s salmon, was eaten fresh, salted, pickled or smoked. Dried shad saved George Washington‘s army in Valley Forge from starvation, according to local lore.
Havre de Grace boatyards built most of the 30 sailing scows that carried bulk cargo on the Upper Chesapeake and its protected tributaries. These shallow, blunt-bowed, boxy 50-foot topsail sloops were Chesapeake Bay’s cargo-carrying Conestoga wagons in the 1800s and 1900s.
Exhibits highlight Elsie, the Bay’s last working sailing scow, which worked out of Havre de Grace from 1888 to 1945. The 60-footer was built in Philadelphia in 1874 as a “mother ship” for duck hunters. In 1888 Capt. Charles Palmer of Havre de Grace, rebuilt and modified the scow for cargo carrying. Mementos, models and numerous photos follow the family’s ownership. Elsie went out of service in 1945, then apparently was a Pennsylvania Railroad river ferry until abandoned in 1957.
Recreation on the flats and river arrived by the early 1900s. Exhibits cover vintage outboards, ice sailing (on ice skates pulled by a kite), early 20th-century swimsuits, navigational instruments and the history of the locally based Northern Chesapeake Star fleet. A new exhibit, “Racing on the Susquehanna,” explores the history of powerboat racing.
Indigenous boats were built using tools and techniques displayed in “Boat Building Tools and Traditions.” Keeping these skills alive are students in the ChesapeakeWoodenBoatBuildersSchool, who meet every Tuesday night year-round to build and restore models and small craft.
“We’re a friendly bunch,” says Allen Ault, co-director and instructor, as he explains the sounds of tools, chatter and laughter emanating from the back room.
Up to 30 students — men, women, teens — work with six volunteer instructors. Almost a dozen small boats, including a pram, Bevins skiff, New Haven 12-1/2 sailboat, several canoes and traditional local skiffs lie on sawhorses. Some sport new planks or ribs, while others await restoration. Teams are constructing two indigenous skiffs using traditional methods and materials. Other vintage boats hang from the ceiling.
In a corner of the spacious room, students in the model shop are finishing several radio-controlled skipjacks, the favored design. The model fleet will represent the museum in competitions, including those at the Chesapeake BayMaritimeMuseum in St. Michaels and CalvertMarineMuseum in Solomons.
“We’d have lots more boats if we had more space,” says Ault, a retired civil engineer. He owns about 15 small boats and flies two- and four-string kites in national exhibitions when not volunteering at the museum. “I got rid of all my big boats, keeping the small ones that I can paddle, row or sail by myself. I live on a lake, and with a small boat it’s easy to go out whenever I want. In winter, I spend more time here [at the museum]. I’m a bit old to go kite-skiing on the lake like the young men do.”
Ault says students can help restore museum boats, restore a personal boat, or build a new boat for the museum to sell and raise money. “Sometimes people bring a boat for us to restore [for a fee],” he says. “Tuition’s low [$130 per six-month semester] because we’d rather be giving something to the community than charging lots of money.”
Most students learn of the school when museum volunteers attend regional festivals and boat shows. During the school’s 16 years of operation, students have worked on “160-plus of the most beautiful wooden boats in the area,” says museum director Brenda Guldenzopf. Canoes are popular with students, and the class has spawned a local chapter of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association.
“I’m very proud of ChesapeakeWoodenBoatBuildersSchool,” says Ault. “I worked for 41 years, and when I retired I decided it was time to give back to the community I live in.”
By donating time and expertise, he and other museum volunteers are keeping alive the skills and knowledge of Upper Chesapeake Bay’s indigenous craft.
For more information, contact the Havre de GraceMaritimeMuseum at (410) 939-4800 or visit www.hdgmaritimemuseum.org.
If you decide to go
Havre de Grace is on the west bank of the Susquehanna River, where it flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The entrance channel from SpesutieIsland north to the city is well marked. Commercial tugs and barges travel the channel to and from the gravel operations upriver.
Three marinas within walking distance of downtown offer transient slips, fuel, pumpout, showers and ice. West of flashing green No. 17, a 6-foot-deep channel (marked from May 1 to Nov. 30) leads west into the CityYachtBasin, situated at the south end of downtown in TydingsPark and protected by a spoils island. Less than a half-mile upriver is Havre de Grace Marina at Log Pond. Just beyond, Tidewater Marina is a major full-service downtown facility that offers slips, moorings (75 cents a foot, no launch service), and full repairs. Havre de Grace Marina’s repair facilities are on the north end of town, beyond the railroad bridge. All recommend reservations in-season.
Canvasback Cove condominium docks are private, as will be those at the former Penn’s Beach Marina.
Anchoring is possible, though often rolly, in the Susquehanna River below the bridge. You can leave dinghies on the floating dock at HutchinsPark (next to Tidewater Marina), a block from downtown. A car is needed to reach SusquehannaState Park, Bulle Rock Golf Course (18 holes by Pete Dye), and other attractions.
The area’s 2.5-foot tide is less affected by the lunar cycle than by wind and water releases from the Conawagan Dam, upriver on the Susquehanna. NOAA chart 12274, Head of Chesapeake Bay, covers Havre de Grace and approaches.
Where to stay
• Havre de GraceCityYachtBasin, (410) 939-0015, VHF channel 68, has fixed docks and slips for boats to 65 feet in depths to 6 feet for $1 a foot per night. Bait, charts, boat ramp ($5), and fishing licenses are offered.
• Havre de Grace Marina at Log Pond, (410) 939-2161, VHF channel 16, has floating docks with slips for boats to 70 feet in depths to 8 feet for $1.50 a foot per night. A laundromat is on site, and full repairs, winter storage and marine store are at the marina’s Water Street boatyard.
• Tidewater Marina (certified Green Marina), (800) 960-8433, VHF channels 9 and 16, www.tidewatermarina.com, has floating docks for boats to 45 feet in 6-foot depths for $1.50 a foot per night. Marine store, Internet and courtesy shuttle are offered, as well as full repairs and winter storage. A laundromat is nearby.
• City of Havre de Grace, www.havredegracemd.com.
• Havre de Grace Office of Tourism & VisitorCenter, (800) 851-7756, www. hdgtourism.com.
• Harford County Tourism Council, (800) 597-2649, www.harfordmd.com.
• May 5-7: Decoy & Wildlife Art Festival, with displays by carving and wildlife artists, carving competitions, retriever dog demonstrations, auctions, children’s activities, at Havre de GraceHigh School, Middle School and DecoyMuseum, (410) 939-3739, www.decoymus eum.com.
• May 6-7: War of 1812 Re-enactment, with military encampment, drills, demonstrations, on the Lockhouse grounds, (410) 939-5780.
• May through October Saturdays: Farmer’s Market, offering produce, baked goods, flowers and more, on Pennington Avenue downtown, (410) 939-3303.
• June 3-4: Maritime Heritage Festival, with boat displays, nautical demonstrations, children’s activities, auction, races, at the Havre de GraceMaritimeMuseum, (410) 939-4800,
• Mid-June: Locktender’s Beer Fest and Auction, at the Community Center, (866) 939-5780.
• June 2-Aug. 4: Concerts in the Park, performances in TydingsPark.
• June 2, July 2, Aug. 4: First Fridays, with live music, family entertainment and merchant specials on Main Street, www.mainstreethdg.com.
• July 2: Independence Celebration. 7 p.m. free concert in TydingsPark, 2 p.m. street parade. Fireworks over the harbor. Carnival opens June 27. (410) 939-4362.
• Mid-December: Candlelight Tour of Historic Havre de Grace, (410) 939-5780.