Looking for a quick, nearby getaway? Havre de Grace oozes with charm, scenery and history, all with a picturesque Main Street brimming with trendy restaurants and stores.
You may be “stay-caying” close to home this summer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t leave your own backyard. Only about 45 minutes up I-95 is the historic and quaint waterfront town of Havre de Grace.
In 2014, Havre de Grace (pop. 12,952, according to the 2010 U.S. census) was named one of America’s 20 best small towns to visit by Smithsonian magazine.
Founded in 1782, this Harford County town has dining, shopping, scenery, history and entertaining attractions for the entire family. What’s not to like?
Situated at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and the head of the Chesapeake Bay, Havre de Grace (French for “harbor of grace”) was once a small hamlet known as Harmer’s Town. During the Revolutionary War, it was visited by the French general Marquis de Lafayette, who said the area reminded him of the French seaport of Le Havre (whose original name had been Le Havre-de-Grâce).
With Lafayette’s comments serving as inspiration, the residents incorporated the town and renamed it Havre de Grace in 1785. Today, you can stroll along the boardwalk promenade, enjoy the downtown arts district, visit historical attractions and enjoy traditional Chesapeake Bay pastimes such as fishing, boating and bird-watching.
10 Fun Facts
- During the First Congress in 1789, Havre de Grace was just a single vote from being designated the capital of the United States. (It lost to Philadelphia.)
- That same year, President George Washington stayed overnight in Havre de Grace on the journey to New York City for his first inauguration.
- Before the town was named Havre de Grace, it was known as Susquehanna Lower Ferry.
- In May of 1813, the city was burned down to the ground by British naval forces during the War of 1812.
- Before and during the Civil War, Havre de Grace was a primary town on the Eastern Route of the Underground Railroad.
- During the Prohibition era, Havre de Grace enjoyed the nickname “Little Chicago.” Reportedly among the ne’er-do-wells who dropped by the town during that period was Al Capone.
- Havre de Grace is home to the Skipjack Martha Lewis, one of the last remaining working dredge boats of the Chesapeake Bay oyster fleet.
- The short-lived TV show “Young Americans” was filmed in Havre de Grace. It aired in 2000 and was shown on the WB Network.
- In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel destroyed the town’s promenade and flooded the city about two blocks into downtown.
- In 2013, a season four episode of the television show “Boardwalk Empire” was named for Havre de Grace and partially took place there. Also, the city stood in for Gaffney, S.C., in an episode of the TV series “House of Cards.”
Points of Interest
Havre de Grace Decoy Museum
215 Giles St.
Waterfowl art is popular in the Chesapeake Bay region, and this museum celebrates the unique American folk art of decoy carving. Tours, demonstrations, lectures and special events take place year-round.
Havre de Grace Maritime Museum
100 Lafayette St.
You can learn about the region’s rich maritime heritage through the museum’s educational exhibits, monthly lectures and programs like a working boat shop and a new environmental center.
The Lafayette Trail
This three-mile, self-guided tour begins at the city’s North Park. Havre de Grace has a rich architectural history with approximately 800 historic structures on display as you walk, drive or ride a bike along its tree-lined streets.
The Promenade is a scenic three-quarter-mile boardwalk you can stroll along to enjoy the views of the Susquehanna. The Promenade is adjacent to Tydings Park, the Decoy Museum, Maritime Museum and the Concord Point Light.
Concord Point Light & Keeper’s House
Foot of Lafayette Street
Built in 1827, Concord Point is the oldest continuously operated lighthouse in Maryland and has a spectacular view of the bay. Across the street you can visit the restored Keeper’s House, which offers a look at the interesting story of lighthouse keeper John O’Neill, as well as the history of Havre de Grace’s best-known landmark.
Washington Street Books & Entertainment Museum
131 N. Washington St.
Books galore (including a law book dating to the 16th century), music, an extensive comic book collection and an entertainment museum featuring costumes from a variety of movies.
Bahoukas Antique Mall & BeerMania MuZeum
408 N. Union Ave.
Not only is the building packed full of antiques, but beer lovers will enjoy the Beer MuZeum, with its collection of beer lights, bar signs, mirrors, glasses, steins, tap handles and more.
Save the Dates
Summer Concerts in the Park — Every Friday night in June and July enjoy a free concert on the waterfront.
First Friday! — From 5 to 9:30 p.m., downtown streets are closed to cars as bands perform on every block, food trucks ply their refreshments and old and young alike can shop, visit a classic car show and more.
Summer Fun Day at Steppingstone Farm Museum — Family fun with lawnmower racing, antique car and tractor show, ice cream eating contest, music and food.
National Lighthouse Day — Celebrate National Lighthouse Day at Concord Point Light with music, giveaways and special activities for the younger set.
For information, visit explorehavredegrace.com.
Carol Sorgen is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.