Havre de Grace, MD
Havre de Grace, the city whose name has caused pronunciation problems for centuries, is situated along the mouth of the Susquehanna River in northeastern Maryland. Just one mile south of the congested Interstate 95, this city of 12,000 is nestled in a quiet corner of northern Chesapeake Bay, where the mighty Susquehanna dumps into the bay the fresh water it collected during its 464 mile journey through New York State, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
Not only does Havre de Grace–locals pronounce it “Havertygrace” by the way–have beautiful views of the river and the bay, this it has an impressive downtown historic district with many shops, restaurants, and cafes. Having sped past Havre de Grace dozens of times over the last eight years on my way back and forth to New Jersey from Washington, DC, I decided on a recent road trip to make a short detour to check out the city.
Of course, to really experience Havre de Grace, it’s best to spend more than the two hours I spent there, but in keeping with the short detour theme, here are some suggestions on what to see in this little city on the bay:
Walk along the Promenade
If you’re not hungry yet, head to the town’s promenade and boardwalk that stretches along the southeastern edge of Havre de Grace. There’s plenty of parking and the views looking out into the bay are fantastic. Standing prominently before you is the 36 foot tall Concord Point Light, a lighthouse built in 1827. During the summer months it’s open to the public but when I was there it was closed for the winter. The lighthouse keeper’s house is directly across the street; I imagine he had one of the world’s easiest commutes. Come to think of it, most people back then had easy commutes.
After walking my dog Ollie along the boardwalk, I noticed a sign saying “No dogs on boardwalk”. I was confused because I saw three other people with dogs along the same way. Either they were flaunting the rules or were ignorant of them, as I was.
The promenade is also the site of the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, which I thought was some sort of war museum of submarine decoys or something. But its turns out that it’s not a war museum, but a one showcasing 1,200 decoys used for duck hunting, a popular sport on the Chesapeake Bay. Duck hunters apparently use decoys to lure their prey.
Check out the Historic District
After you worked up a little bit of an appetite, drive over to the Havre de Grace Historic District towards the shops restaurants and cafes that line Washington and St. John Streets. Many of the buildings date back to the 19th century and some even are older, including Rogers Tavern, one of the only buildings not burned to the ground by the British during their raid of Havre de Grace in the War of 1812.
Havre de Grace is also good destination for antiques shopping; there were several shops sprinkled throughout downtown. If you’re into used books, visit the Courtyard Book Shop. It has an impressive collection of titles in every subject you could imagine and the owner is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. It’s also dog friendly.
Get a coffee for the road
If you read this blog you know that I love my coffee shops, so I recommend Concord Point Coffee on Washington Street. Occupying the first floor of a hundred year old building, Concord Point has a cozy interior, tin ceilings, and a quiet seating area that looked like the perfect place for reading a newspaper. The coffee was excellent. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for long as I had Ollie locked up in my car, so I had to hit the road.
Havre de Grace is situated on a slope leading up from the Susquehanna, so there are some good vantage points throughout the downtown area to catch a glimpse of the river.
As walked to my car, I looked down the street towards the shoreline. The river was darker shade of violet by now as the sun sank into the clouds hanging above the horizon behind me. The Amtrak rail bridge to my left, black beams set against the faint orange sky, spanned the wide watery expanse of the river. Havre de Grace was quiet except for the low rumble of traffic going across the I-95 bridge a few miles to the west. Seagulls crooned overhead. Though it was early December, I could smell the summer in the air, that smell of the mid-Atlantic coastline.
As I got back onto I-95, I was quickly engulfed in bumper-to-bumper traffic, inching towards DC in the dark. I immediately missed the charm and slower pace of Havre de Grace, but will be back one day soon.