In 1608, Captain John Smith became the first European to see the Susquehanna River, which in the Indian language meant “river of islands.” The City of Havre de Grace traces its origin to the day in 1658 when settler Godfrey Harmer purchased 200 acres of land that he called Harmer’s Town. TIn 1695, the Lower Susquehanna Ferry made its first crossing of the river from Harmer’s Town; it continued to operate for 170 years.
During the Revolutionary War this small hamlet was visited several times by General Marquis de Lafayette who noted in his diary on August 29, 1782: “It has been proposed to build a city here on the right bank and near the ferry where we crossed. It should be called Havre de Grace.” Three years later the town was incorporated and heeded his suggestion to become the “Harbor of Grace.” With its strategic perch on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its position near the center of the original 13 colonies, Havre de Grace was very seriously considered as the site of America’s new national capital but lost out to the Potomac River site by only one vote. As a result of that near brush with fate, many of the streets bear names such as Congress, Washington, Lafayette, Franklin, Revolution, et al. Havre de Grace boasts another early connection to Washington D.C., this one less dubious. Both were burned and laid waste by the British during the War of 1812. When the British sailed away after May 3, 1813 only two houses and the Episcopal Church had been spared.
In 1839 the Susquehanna & Tidewater Canal was completed on the Havre de Grace side of the Susquehanna River, boosting the town’s commercial fortunes. By mid-century, though, the railroad was usurping the ferry/canal in transportation importance, and a major shift in the town’s economic pattern began. Fish packing houses, ice plants, and a feed mill dotted the shoreline.
But what put Havre de Grace on the national radar was thoroughbred horses. The Havre de Grace Racetrack opened in 1912, when pari-mutuel betting was not legal in New Jersey, New York or Connecticut. Excursion trains brought loads of gamblers to “The Graw” every day. With the coming of Prohibition, the town developed a reputation as a “Little Chicago.” The track one of the best and most frequented race tracks in America and top stakes races attracted legendary horses like Man O’ War and Seabiscuit. Triple Crown Winner Citation was beaten here in the mud in April 1948 - his only loss. The Graw would make racing history only a little longer; it closed in 1950 and the grounds are now used by the National Guard. For the next few decades, Havre de Grace was suspended in a quiet slumber, bypassed by suburbanization. The railbirds were replaced by those hunting birds, infusing the Havre de Grace economy with sportsmen from up and down the East Coast coming to the town for the waterfowl. Watermen made their living hunting duck in sink boxes, shooting hundreds in a single day, and loading them on the morning trains for the restaurants and hotels in Philadelphia. Their life, and this period are preserved at the Decoy Museum on Giles Street.
Our walking tour of this water-influenced town will begin at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay in the small Hutchins Memorial Park where parking is as available as the long water views...
There are two ways to begin this tour. If you want to visit the Concord Point Lighthouse, the oldest continuous light in Maryland, it is about six blocks off the tour route. Leave the park on Congress Avenue, walking away from the water. Take your first left onto Market Street, walk four blocks and turn left towards the water on Revolution Street and turn right on Concord Street to the lighthouse:
Concord Point Lighthouse
Concord Street at the foot of Lafayette Street
Concord Point Light overlooks the point where the Susquehanna River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, an area of increasing navigational traffic at the time it was built in 1827. The tower of Port Deposit granite was built by John Donahoo, whose resume included a dozen lighthouses in Maryland. It is the most northerly lighthouse in the state and the oldest continuously operated lighthouse in Maryland; only one lighthouse tower on the Chesapeake Bay predates it. The walls are 31” thick at the base and narrow to 18” at the parapet. The lantern was originally lit with nine whale oil lamps with 16-inch tin reflectors. In 1854 a sixth-order Fresnel lens was installed. This was later upgraded to a fifth-order Fresnel lens. The lighthouse was automated in 1920.
Concord Point Light Keeper’s House
Concord Street at the foot of Lafayette Street
John Donahoo also built the keeper’s dwelling across the street. It was known as the O’Neill House - for good reason. The O’Neill family served as keepers at Concord Point from the lighting of the first oil lamps until the end. When the marauding British ships arrived off shore during the War of 1812,most of the citizens fled in fear, but Lt. John O’Neill led a small band in a spirited, but unsuccessful defense of the town. He was wounded, captured, and imprisoned on the British ship Maidstone. O’Neill’s fifteen-year old daughter, Matilda, pleaded with the Admiral of the Fleet for her father’s life. Admiral Cockburn was so impressed by the girl’s bravery that he released O’Neill unharmed and rewarded Matilda by giving her his gold snuff box and sword. It was Lt. John O’Neill who was trusted as the first keeper of the light. The house and property were sold by the United States government in April 1920 as the light had been automated and a resident keeper was no longer necessary. The house was a residential rental property until the mid-1930s when it was converted to a restaurant. A long outbuilding to the south became a bar and dance hall. the property changed hands nine times between 1920 and 1988 when it was purchased by the Maryland Historic Trust and deeded to the City of Havre de Grace. From 1920 to 1988, the property underwent many renovations and additions until it regained its 19th century appearance.
To pick up the walking tour at the start walk west four blocks on Lafayette Street (away from the water) and turn right on Union Avenue and walk three blocks to the first tour stop at the intersection of Revolution Street.
IF YOU CHOOSE NOT TO VISIT THE CONCORD POINT LIGHTHOUSE START THE TOUR BY WALKING WEST ON CONGRESS AVENUE AND TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET TO STROLL THROUGH A RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOOD OF 19TH CENTURY FRAME HOUSES. TURN RIGHT ON REVOLUTION STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON UNION AVENUE.
Fuller-Mezei Apartment House
327 South Union Avenue, northeast corner of Revolution Street
Union Avenue runs north-south with the Chesapeake Bay at the southern end. Wide and tree-shaded, the boulevard features many architecturally significant buildings of different styles; it is the town’s most visually impressive street. The northern end and middle are particularly rich in 19th and early 20th century architecture. The Fuller-Mezei apartment house dates to 1880,constructed in the popular Queen Anne style of the day. It features the irregular massing, multiple roof lines, bays and tower typical of Queen Anne buildings but is most notable for the rich variety of textures on its exterior surfaces. Unlike other Queen Anne houses in Havre de Grace, this one is shingled on all stories, not just the attic level.
301 South Union Avenue
The Vandiver mansion is the finest example of Queen Anne architecture in Havre de Grace. It is a two-and-a-half story frame house clad in weatherboard and shingles, richly decorated on the gables. An ornate piazza stretches across the front of the building. Murray Vandiver built the house in 1886, probably incorporating earlier structures on the property. Vandiver’s father Robert was a contractor who worked on the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal and the railroad cut that sliced through the town down to the river. Murray Vandiver was an active figure in the political life of Maryland for many years, both at the state level and in Havre de Grace, where he was mayor at the time the house was built. The Vandiver mansion carries on as an upscale inn.
227 South Union Avenue
The Hall House, built circa 1835, is a square, two-and-a-half story, three-bay, detached brick dwelling that is one of four brick mid-19th century townhouses on Union Avenue. These buildings reflect the material prosperity which was expected to arise from the coming of the canal and the railroad to town.
213 South Union Avenue
The Hoke House is a Greek Revival brick townhouse built in 1838, apparently as a twin of the Sappington House across the street at No. 212. It features a stretcher bond facade and a classical entrance portico.
212 South Union Street
This is the twin of the Hoke House across the street - at least as originally built. It has been the subject of several additions and alterations, not the least of which is a coat of ox-blood red paint.
200 South Union Avenue
The Spencer-Silver mansion is the only High Victorian stone mansion in Havre de Grace. Built in 1896 in an eclectic vernacular style, the structure combines elements of the Chateauesque and Queen Anne styles. The mansion has a tower, an oriel, a two-story bay, four gables and a dormer - all of them lit in different ways. The half-timbered gables and small scale floral details on the porch are painted to contrast with the random ashlar walls constructed of rough, gray granite quarried at Port Deposit. The house was built to reflect the wealth and position of its original owner, John Spencer, who was in the fish packing business among other interests. The showcase house was bought at auction in 1917 by Charles B. Silver, a local canning magnate. It now survives as a bed-and-breakfast.
115 South Union Avenue
The 1888 Carver House is a beautifully maintained example of a Queen Anne and Stick Style cottage. The house, marked by the crisp detail in its irregular massing, multiple roof lines, prominent porches in a rich variety of materials.
Havre de Grace United Methodist Church
115 South Union Avenue
The Havre de Grace United Methodist Church was designed in the late Gothic Revival style by Philadelphia architect William Plack in 1901. Built of Port Deposit granite, the exterior details were exquisitely executed in Indiana limestone, while much of the ornamentation on the main and tower roofs is rolled sheet copper. The church was a gift to the congregation from Stephen J. Seneca, a tin can manufacturer and fruit packer, who stipulated that the old church at 110 North Union be retained so he could turn it into rental flats. The superb craftsmanship displayed on this church is rarely found beyond major cities.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
114 North Union Avenue
Begun in 1809 with funds provided by a lottery, St. John’s is the oldest church in Havre de Grace. This church is also one of the oldest surviving structures in the city. The building is remarkable for its Flemish bond brick walls, its well executed round arched windows and its simple, early 19th century appearance. Following fires in 1813 and 1832 which gutted the interior, an arched ceiling was installed to block off the upper story windows. The slate roof and belfry date to around 1884.
200 North Union Avenue
Stephen Seneca’s wealth sprang from an extensive manufacturing complex he operated at the foot of Pennington Avenue a few blocks away. His home on Union Avenue was built in 1869 but was transformed into the grand Victorian mansion seen today, with turrets and gables, around 1901. Seneca also served as mayor of Havre de Grace for two years in the 1890s and was an officer in the Fist National Bank.
300 North Union Avenue
The Aveilhe-Goldsborough House is a two-story, three-bay square house of stucco-covered brick. The style of the 1801 house, particularly the design of the hipped roof, reflect the French ancestry of its builder, John Baptiste Aveilhe. This stands as one of the town’s oldest and most architecturally intriguing buildings, having survived the burning of the town by the British in 1813. It appears that Aveihle, a Charleston, South Carolinian, could not afford his new house and sold it in 1803. Howes Goldsborough, a prosperous merchant and ship owner, bought the house in 1816 and it stayed in the family until 1855. A dozen owners have come and gone since but the still-recognizable 200+-year old building is still functioning as a single-family home.
Havre de Grace Post Office
308 North Union Street
The cornerstone for the is Neoclassical brick and stucco building was laid in 1937. The construction of this post office is evidence of an express desire by the Federal government to bring architecturally significant buildings to small downs during Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Every sixth course on the brick facade is laid in all headers to give the post office an eye-catching face. The roof is tin and is a capped by a centrally placed cupola-lantern. Below, the main door has a leaded glass transom.
TURN LEFT ON FRANKLIN STREET.
Parker Mitchell House
518 Franklin Street
The Parker Mitchell House is Federal brick townhouse that, although stripped of ornamentation, is more sophisticated in its design than most others that showed up on Havre de Grace streets in the 1830s and 1840s. It has a fanlight over the entrance and on the east gable flank it has dormers with pilasters and segmental pediments.
Joseph Good House and Store
522 Franklin Street
The Joseph Good house and store were built in 1893 by a prosperous grocer. The Second Empire house, two stories high under a high mansard roof, is richly decorated in the manner of the grand houses a block away on Union Avenue.
Presbyterian Church of Havre de Grace
551 Franklin Street, northwest corner of Stokes Street
The Presbyterian Church is a rectangular one-story frame building erected in 1840-1843 in the ecclesiastical style of choice at the time - Greek Revival. With the coming of the 20th century an enclosed entrance with a triangular pediment was added to the front as it was felt that the original temple-form was too pagan-like.
TURN AND RETURN TO UNION STREET. TURN LEFT.
Old Chesapeake Hotel/Ken’s Steak’s
400 North Union Street
The Chesapeake Hotel opened in 1896 catering to the traveling salesmen, Western Union and railroad workers (from the B&O and Pennsylvania railroads), horse trainers, and jockeys from the Havre de Grace Racetrack. What began as The Chesapeake Hotel, eventually became known as the Chesapeake Bar & Grill, then The Crazy Swede Restaurant, then Guest Suites, then today’s Ken’s Steak & Rib House.
Hitchock House/Old Chesapeake Hotel
416 North Union Avenue
This Victorian house, originally built in 1855 by Mr. Charles B. Hitchcock, blends Italianate (window treatment and brackets) and Greek Revival (symmetry and peaked central gable) styles. In the early 1900s Clarence Pusey, then mayor of Havre de Grace, lived here. The Old Chesapeake Hotel has taken historic houses and buildings on both sides of the block and converted them into guest houses; the Hitchcock House is one of them.
Marquis de Lafayette Statue
point of St. John Street and North Union Avenue
The Marquis de Lafayette noted in his diary on August 29, 1782: “It has been proposed to build a city here on the right bank and near the ferry where we crossed. It should be called Havre de Grace.” The citizens took his advice, and three years later incorporated the town as The City of Havre de Grace. Later they honored Lafayette with a statue that stands at the main downtown portal, looking toward the ferry crossing that brought him to the place he called “Harbor of Mercy.”
DETOUR: SUSQUEHANNA MUSEUM OF HAVRE DE GRACE AT THE LOCKHOUSE.
TO VISIT THE LOCKHOUSE AT THE TERMINUS OF THE SUSQUEHANNA & TIDEWATER CANAL TWO BLOCKS AWAY, WALK STRAIGHT UNDER THE RAILROAD BRIDGE AND TURN RIGHT ON WATER STREET AND RIGHT AGAIN ON CONESTO STREET.
IF YOU CHOOSE NOT TO VISIT THE LOCKHOUSE, TURN RIGHT ON ST. JOHN STREET.
Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal Lockhouse
The 45-mile long Susquehanna (PA) and Tidewater (MD) Canal ran from Wrightsville, Pennsylvania to Havre de Grace, Maryland. The canal was built between 1835 and 1839 in order to improve commerce on the Susquehanna River. The new canal would connect the extensive Pennsylvania canal system with tidewater ports―primarily Baltimore and Philadelphia. The flat-bottomed canal boats averaged 65 feet in length and hauled as much as 150 tons. A pair of mules walking in single file would pull a boat at a maximum of 4 mph. At greater speeds the vessel’s wake would cause damage to the canal walls. The Lock House is located at the southern terminus of the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal, which operated from 1840-1897. The canal was pivotal in the development of the Lower Susquehanna River Valley. It connected with the Pennsylvania Canal at Columbia and the Conestoga Canal at Safe Harbor, opening central Pennsylvania to trade with Baltimore and Philadelphia. The Lock House built in 1840, served as the toll collector’s office and home of the lock tender. Traffic on the canal was very heavy, reaching its peak in 1864. Unfortunately, the canal was plagued by ongoing problems including lack of sufficient funds, legal disputes, railroad competition, and storm-related damage. Eventually the ravages of nature and the cost of repairs made continuation impractical. Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Canal never reopened after a May 1894 flood. Maryland’s Tidewater Canal continued operation for local traffic until about 1900.
501 St. John Street
This building, with its tall, Federal-era end chimneys, was built around 1834 by A. J. Thomas as a residence. Situated prominently on the west bank of the Susquehanna River, the building is on the site and perhaps the foundations of the old Ferry House, an inn run in conjunction with old hand-operated ferry boats. The railroad bought it in the 1850s and ran it as The Lafayette Hotel for about 90 years. Today it’s an American Legion hall.
Havre de Grace Banking and Trust Company
331 St. John Street
This Neoclassical-inspired building, the second location of the Havre de Grace Banking and Trust Company, was built in 1924. Its first home was in the Masonic Temple Building down the street. It is a two-story polygonal building with a limestone ashlar facade accented by copper trim on the windows and doors. These details remain today but clearly its money counting days are over.
First National Bank
319 St. John Street
This sophisticated little commercial building appeared in Havre de Grace in 1905, finely crafted of Port Deposit granite in the Romanesque Revival style. The architect was William Plack who also earned commissions in town for the Methodist Church and the Citizen’s Bank across the street and perhaps the Havre de Grace Banking and Trust Company as well. Plack is thought to have attempted to re-create an English gate house for this vault on the Havre de Grace streetscape.
301 St. John Street
Random rubblestone structures are common in the northeast Maryland countryside but less so in towns; the Barnes-Boyd house is one of a few in Havre de Grace. Covered with stucco, the building is divided into two separate buildings, one commercial and one residential. Richard Barnes acquired this prime corner lot, just one block from the Susquehanna River, for $200 in 1816.
BEAR RIGHT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
226 North Washington Street
This house and lot were deeded to Elizabeth Rodgers, widow of Colonel John Rodgers, in 1802. John Rodgers operated an ordinary (tavern) beginning in 1774 and was known to run the town ferry across the Susquehanna River. In 1775 he was the captain of the 5th Company of Militia. He purchased this small Georgian townhouse in 1788. In his diaries, George Washington, who often traveled the Old Post Road that crossed the river here, made mention of his stays at “Rodger’s Tavern.”
215 North Washington Street
This Masonic Temple is the largest commercial building in the Central Business District - three stories high and seven bays wide. Due to the limitations of the lot, the structure has an unusual five-sided shape. It was built in 1907 in a restrained Neoclassical style, one of a handful in town to embrace the popular early 20th century architectural trend. Decorations include corner quoins and keystone lintels above the windows. A heavy, molded entablature frames the first floor and the modillioned cornice is limited to the Washington Street elevation. The large Art Nouveau lettering above the entrance adds flair to the Havre de Grace streetscape. This building is typical of brick urban dwellings in Colonial America and examples are common throughout the Middle Atlantic but in Havre de Grace it is considered to be the oldest building in town to have survived the burning of the British in 1813. The house remained in the Rodgers family until 1881. Adapted for commercial use, the first floor has been completely altered but the upper floors have only been moderately affected by the passage of over 200 years.
Maryland House Apartments
200-204 North Washington Street
This building, with its prominent turret that is unique to Havre de Grace, holds a commanding presence in the business district. It is actually three buildings, 200-202-204. The corner building was the last of the trio to be constructed, around 1905, and all three were covered with a stone veneer to give them the appearance of being a united whole. They began with separate owners but when all were acquired by one individual the interior floor plans were integrated into each other. The northernmost four-story building - the top floor was added in the 1940s - has regained its original frame appearance.
Green’s Pharmacy Building
101 North Washington Street
This long, low two-story, hipped roof commercial building with apartments above was probably built around 1870 when Thomas Sadler began a drug and paint store here. For many years the Green family operated a pharmacy here, beginning in 1916.
TURN AND RETURN TO PENNINGTON AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT.
201 St. John Street
Stephen J. Seneca built this building in 1885 for his fruit packing and can manufacturing operation that sold under the Red Cross label. It is located at the water’s edge, and with adjacent railroad tracks to facilitate shipping, this was a perfect site for a canning industry. The railroad tracks were from the days when, prior to having any bridges spanning the Susquehanna River, trains were ferried across the river at this site. Boats with foods to be processed could dock at the cannery piers. Finished products could be shipped by boat or train. During the Spanish-American War (1898), the U.S. Government bought Red Cross canned goods from the Seneca Cannery.
TURN RIGHT ON ST. JOHN STREET AND TURN LEFT ON CONGRESS AVENUE TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT HUTCHINS MEMORIAL PARK.