Monday, April 17, 2023

History, Shopping, Art and More Await in Havre de Grace

The Concord Point Light House

I learned about Havre de Grace, Maryland from a local meteorologist, which is a bit of a strange way to happen upon a place. He’d trace his finger along the map and say, “It's today's hot spot, located way down here.” Why he always included Havre de Grace was a mystery to me then and it is now. Did he have ties to the town? I don’t know. What I do know is that my curiosity led me to the area located about an hour and 45 minutes from Harrisburg in Harford County Maryland at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Havre de Grace touts a total of eight museums, all of which give up their secrets on an area that is rich in history. If history isn't your thing, there are plenty of other places to while away the time.

A relatively short drive leads visitors to a quiet area where boutique shops and restaurants line the streets and elegant bed and breakfasts beckon.

Learn about History along the Lafayette Trail

A good way to see a nice sampling of what Havre de Grace has to offer is to take a self-guided tour of the Lafayette trail, which can be accessed at the Visitors’ Center on Pennington Avenue. One of the first stops along the trail is the Lock House Museum where visitors can learn about the importance of canals in facilitating early trade and commerce in the area. The two-story structure overlooking the Susquehanna was built in 1840 and was home to the lock tender and his family. Guests of the museum will learn about the “locks” that were devised to raise and lower canal boats to adjust for the difference in elevation as they passed through the channels.

One of the most popular landmarks along the trail is the Concord Point Lighthouse, which looms large as a backdrop in many a selfie. It is known as the oldest, continuously operating lighthouse in the country and was once slated for demolition before a concerned citizen’s group banded together to save it. Guests can learn more about the light house at the museum nearby which is known as “The Keeper’s Dwelling” and dates back to 1827.

Along those same lines is the three story, 10,000 square foot Havre de Grace Maritime Museum. On display is a new permanent exhibit which tells the story of the Underground Railroad in the area.

The new installation at the Maritime Museum tells the story of the Underground Railroad in the area.

Two unique shops are Washington Street Books & Music and JoRetro, both located on Washington Street. JoRetro transports customers into the wayback machine to a time when Pyrex was popular and quite a bit of shelf space is dedicated to the kitchenware. 

Jewelry made from Pyrex at JoRetro.

Scenes from JoRetro.

A selection of vintage vinyl, clothing, jewelry and more are just a few of the other items that customers can purchase at the quirky, fun shop. 

Washington Street Books contains dozens of movie costumes displayed in cases throughout the store.

Washington Street Books is a retail shop/museum. During a recent visit, Abba blared on the sound system while 20-somethings browsed comic books that lined one of walls. Items for sale included crystals, toys, minerals and other curiosities, surrounded by dozens of floor-to-ceiling display cases containing costumes worn by stars in movies. The owner rotates out 250 movie costumes from 75 different movies. On display now are costumes from “Hunger Games” and “Respect,” which includes a gown decorated in hundreds of Swarovski crystals and worn by Jennifer Hudson.

Also, not to be missed is Seneca Cannery Antiques, where dozens of vendors sell items that have long been forgotten.

The Seneca Cannery has dozens of vendors selling items that have long been forgotten.

Beautiful B&Bs

Accommodations in Havre de Grace are as charming and historical as the town itself. The Vandiver Inn, located on Union Avenue, is home to many “I Do’s,” and rightly so. The mansion dates back to 1886 and is named after Murray Vandiver, who served as Secretary and Treasurer of Maryland and as Mayor of Havre de Grace. Vandiver built the large Victorian “cottage” as a present for his wife.

The front of the Vandiver.

The breakfast room at the Vandiver.

Our room at the Vandiver.

Our living room at the Vandiver.

Located a short walk from the Vandiver is the Spencer Silver Mansion, built in 1896 and purchased in 1917 by Carles Bartol Silver, a local canning magnate who made it his home, along with his wife “Fannie” Hopkins Silver. Silver was part owner of the firm Silver, Spencer & Company and reputed to be the largest salt fish packer in the East.

Walk the Promenade

The Promenade is a lovely ¾-mile boardwalk that provides a beautiful view of the Susquehanna, where waterfowl frolic and boats traverse the bay. An interesting structure that still stands and is located just off the Promenade is a four-story fieldstone building which opened in 1921 when Jazz was all the rage. Al Capone was said to have stayed there, but the Depression proved to be its death knell and the hotel went out of business. Today the structure is home to luxury condominiums.

This was once a hotel where Al Capone stayed.

An Up-and-Coming Art Center

An ambitious project is underway at Havre de Grace’s Graw Alley. Construction is apace for a 34,000 square-foot indoor facility that will become a creativity incubator, an art center and economic driver. The public will soon be able to able to watch artists as they work, not unlike our Millworks here in Harrisburg.

The outside of Harmer's Town Art Center is taking shape.

Located outside of the center will be the Graw Alley Interactive Art Park containing sculptures, outdoor seating and signage leading visitors on a tour of Havre de Grace history as told through murals and public art installations. Harmer’s Town Art Center will cost millions, according to officials and is slated to open the summer of 2023.

These are just a few highlights of beautiful, quaint and charming Havre de Grace, an area that is ideal for a laidback getaway to refresh and recharge.