Haven of Grace, Maryland | Chesapeake Bay Magazine

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Fast facts

  • Located 33 miles northeast of Baltimore where the Susquehanna River joins the bay.
  • Founded in 1782, it is the second oldest municipality in Maryland after Annapolis
  • Named by the Marquis de Lafayette, who was charmed by the natural harbor
  • Was nearly destroyed during the War of 1812

What makes it unique

This quiet little town at the mouth of the Susquehanna River has a unique and colorful past. The city was named in the 17th century by visiting General Le Marquis de Lafayette, who recalled the French port of Le Havre. In the 19th century, it became a nationally renowned center for duck hunting and a sporting ground for the rich and famous, from presidents to robber barons. In the early 20th century, “The Graw” racetrack brought gamblers and mob bosses to see legendary racers like Seabiscuit, and thirsty visitors to enjoy Maryland’s relaxed stance on Prohibition. And in the 21st, it settled down to become what it is today: a charming, friendly and relaxed city, full of graceful Victorian houses, curious antique shops, interesting restaurants and unique museums in their kind.

One of the town’s colorful murals depicts ‘the Graw’, its famous racecourse.

Getting There

On a boat

The channel to Havre de Grace is easy to follow, but you will find it more than a little circuitous due to the wide and shallow expanse of the Susquehanna Plains, rich in fish and poultry. Boaters with shallow draft boats who know the waters can find their way around, but others should dutifully follow channel markers around the shore. The Havre de Grace/Susquehanna River Channel leaves the main Chesapeake Channel just past the green “5” and the red “6”. You can start cutting any time after the green “3”. There is plenty of water here at the large intersection of the bay with the Elk and Northeast rivers and the Havre de Grace/Susquehanna river channel. Just be sure to choose the red-green “A” intersection buoy and treat it as red, keeping it to starboard as you enter the channel. The next marker, green “1S”, is one and a half miles north-northwest. Lots of depth on both sides here, but the channel narrows after “1S” and the water around it becomes shallow. The markers are further apart, however, so it’s easy to follow.

From there, the channel skirts the Flats and shades Spesutie Island, a restricted area of ​​the US Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground. Turning north towards Havre de Grace, you’ll pass half a dozen tiny spoil islands to port and the historic Fishing Battery Light to starboard. Three miles beyond these small islands you will find yourself at the southern end of Havre de Grace and the channel in the town yacht basin at Tydings Memorial Park, with other marinas further up the channel.

By car

Havre de Grace is approximately 40 miles north of Baltimore and 35 miles south of Wilmington, Del. From I-95, take exit 89 to MD SR 155/Level Road and follow it east; it ends at Le Havre de Grace.

The circa 1940 Thomas J. Hatem Bridge steel arch spans the 1906 Susquehanna River Railroad Bridge.

Marina Basics

A slip to Havre from Grace City Yacht Basin in Tydings Park at the south end of town will put you within easy reach of almost everything Havre de Grace has to offer. The catch is the depth: usually around five feet when approaching and sliding. The marina has toilets and showers with slide doors, fuel, pumps, and 30 and 50 amp service.

The family-owned Tidewater Marina has been a staple for nearly 60 years and offers full services and a large berth in addition to slipways. You will find fuel, toilets, showers, full repair services and good hardware.

Marine Center Marinas has two full-service marinas. The oldest, Havre de Grace Marina at the north end of town, has plenty of depth, but sailboats will need to be able to negotiate the Amtrak rail bridge, which has a closed clearance of 52 feet (although we have sometimes found as short as 49 feet). Those who can get under the bridge will find 45 floating docks; moorings that can accommodate yachts up to 35′; a bath house and laundry room; Shipyard amenities, including quick sail repair at the Sail Loft and easy access to restaurants. The larger Log Pond Marina is further south near the Concord Point Lighthouse and has floating docks and 68 docks that can accommodate boats up to 48′, as well as passengers over 100′ at the floating dock major. If you’re heading upstream to Port Deposit, Tome’s Landing Marina is the only facility there, offering both service and storage.

The Tidewater Marina Regatta Hall is available for private events
The Decoy Museum celebrates this unique art form, then and now.

Stay down to earth

Even in a city full of glorious Victorian homes, the Vandiver Inn stands out for its chic interiors and beautiful porches and grounds, making it a prime venue for weddings and events. The Spencer-Silver Mansion is an 1896 stone mansion that feels like you’ve stepped back in time, with rooms filled with antiques and a free-standing two-story carriage house.

Sailing in a small boat is a centuries-old tradition.

Explore by water

For boaters, the Harbor Ramp from Grace City Yacht Basin gives you easy access to the Mess Islands just south, including the Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge at Battery Island. Just north of the Amtrak Railroad Bridge is the Jean S. Roberts Memorial Park boat launch, which sits at the mouth of the Susquehanna River.

You’ll find some great paddles north and south of town, and there are some really nice ways to get out and enjoy the Susquehanna River. In the early 20th century, a series of power-generating dams, including the mighty Conowingo, 10 miles north of Havre de Grace, put an end to all through transport, but now, if the river is calm and the Conowingo does not spill water, kayakers and boaters with local knowledge can get within 400 yards of the dam. It is important to be sure of the conditions before venturing out and to understand that snags and rocks can wreak havoc with boats and motors. The area in front of the dam attracts photographers and birdwatchers from around the world to watch the eagles soar above the rocks and dam, picking fish downstream. Kayakers and boaters can stop at Susquehanna State Park and kayakers further upstream at Shuresville Landing at Fisherman’s Park.

An alternative is for boaters whose mast height does not exceed 50 feet to make the trip upriver from Havre de Grace, past Garrett Island to Port Deposit. The geography here is unlike anything else on the Chesapeake, with sheer cliffs rising above the water.

The Havre de Grace marine center offers kayak and SUP rentals (18 years and over only). BaySail School of Sailing offers accredited courses as well as two sailboats available for half-day or full-day charter. Want someone else to do the work? Board the 45-course Trident M/V Summer Breeze for a two-hour cruise along the Susquehanna and Northeast Rivers, including weekday happy hours.

Land exploration

Follow the bright blue French fleur-de-lis painted on the sidewalks of Havre de Grace along the Lafayette Trail, a three-mile loop that takes in many of the city’s historic buildings. You can pick up the brochure at the Visitor Center or listen to a tour through the free Distrx app.

If you only visit one museum, make it the Decoy Museum. This museum represents much of the history of the Chesapeake Bay, and the decoys created by the bay’s carvers are amazing. Then, stroll the Promenade, a three-quarter-mile walkway that crisscrosses the waterfront, to the Friends-Concord Point Lighthouse, Maryland’s second oldest. The Maritime Museum of Le Havre de Grâce has exhibits on the Underground Railroad (the Havre de Grâce was a major stopping point) as well as on the heritage of the boatmen, and borders a beautiful promenade on the marsh. The Lock Tenders Museum sits on the north end of town, where the short-lived Susquehanna Canal once met the Chesapeake.

One of the best things about Havre de Grace is its shopping. There are fun antique shops like JoRetro Vintage Market, which specializes in all things mid-century, and the two-story Bahoukas Antiques Mall and Beer MuZeum. Galleries include Arts by the Bay and The Artists’ Emporium, while Vincenti Decoys sells old and new lures. Washington Street Books and Music offers books and music, as well as toys, old movie costumes and props. Even Havre de Grace’s food shops are one of a kind, from the German Goll Bakery (founded in 1934) to the famous Bomboy’s Ice Cream and Bomboy’s Candy Shop across the street.

creeping bass

If you love cozy Irish bars, you’ll love Coakley’s Pub, with its brick-walled interior and live music on weekends. The Vineyard Wine Bar offers a curated selection of wines to taste or buy, as well as a menu of small plates. Head to the historic State Theater for live events, from stand-up bands to theater, or head upstream to Port Deposit for Key West party vibes and dock and dine at Lee’s Landing.

The view from Tidewater Grille
Seasonal small plates at the Vineyard Wine Bar.

To eat

We love the view from Tidewater Grille’s four-season porch and expansive lawn, and the food is equally impressive, whether it’s the fresh fish sandwich or the scallop marsala. Tidewater has its own docks for a convenient stop and all-day happy hour on Fridays. Visit Graw’s Backfin Blues: Creole de Graw for its unique Chesapeake twist on French Creole cuisine, with dishes like blackened crab cakes, crab and crawfish dip, and red beans and seafood rice.

FURTHER AWAY

If you’re towing your boat and fancy pitching a tent or renting a rustic cabin, consider spending a few nights at Susquehanna State Park, a 20-acre waterfront park just 15 miles northeast of town. From here you can launch your boat and easily head into town for the day. You will have many activities in the park itself and the children can run, jump and shout at their leisure. Just be sure to book ahead, especially if you’re going on a summer weekend.

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