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Historic Havre de Grace

By John T. Marck

Although Harford County in its entirety has a great deal to offer, the one area containing more historical sites than any other is the city of Havre de Grace.

As one begins a tour of the Havre de Grace Historic District, the first stop is the Concord Point Lighthouse. Located at the foot of Lafayette Point, this structure was built in 1827 by John Donahoo of Havre de Grace. This lighthouse was in continuous operation for more than one hundred fifty years. It was here that John O'Neill made his gallant stand against the British during the War of 1812. On the water side of the lighthouse is the cannon used in defense of Havre de Grace when the British burned the town on May 3, 1813. Today the lighthouse has been restored and is open on Sundays, May through October.

A short distance away is located the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum and Bayou Hotel. The Decoy Museum, located in what originally was a service area of the Bayou Hotel, features complete collections of decoys made by Madison Mitchell, Charlie Joiner, Charles Bryant and others. On display are also various tools and equipment used in decoy making. The Bayou Hotel, located to the south of the Decoy Museum, opened as a luxury hotel in 1920. Once a hot spot of the Jazz Age, the hotel was forced to close during the Great Depression, and became a home for the Franciscan Sisters. In 1953 it was converted into rental apartments, and in 1984 was converted again into luxury apartments, as it remains today.

As you leave the Bayou Hotel, you follow Market Street to Commerce Street, where Millard E. Tydings Memorial Park is located. This seven acres, city-owned park, provides a magnificent view of the Susquehanna Flats of the Chesapeake Bay. Originally called Bayside Park, it was renamed in honor of one of Havre de Grace's most famous natives, U.S. Senator Millard E. Tydings. Today the park is used for many annual activities, including Memorial Day services, 4th of July fireworks displays, Arts and Crafts Shows, and the Seafood Festival. Along the water's edge is the city's yacht basin, and looking across the channel, one can see Tydings Island.

Seven blocks north of the park, at the intersection of Fountain and Union are the Vandiver Inn, Hall House and Spencer-Silver Mansion. The Vandiver Inn was built in 1886 and is a fine example of a Queen Anne cottage. This structure is the most extensively and expensively restored building in Havre de Grace. This old mansion today is available for overnight accommodations, and features gourmet dinners. The Hall House is a Canal Era structure built in 1835. It is one of three Canal Era "bricks" located in this block between Fountain and Bourbon on Union Avenue. Currently it is a private residence. The Spence-Silver Mansion was built in 1896, and today operates as a bed and breakfast. This random ashlar (masonry) structure is the only High Victorian stone mansion in the city. It contains many architectural enhancements such as a two-story bay window, a tower, four gables, a dormer and a variety of window shapes and placements. While the primary roof is slate, the large veranda has a copper one. First owned by John Spencer, it was later purchased by Charles Silver, thus its name.

Located on Washington Street at Fountain is one of the city's structures having considerable historical significance. This is the O'Neill House, built in 1814. This property was in the O'Neill family for 131 years. John O'Neill, the original owner, is known as the defender of Havre de Grace for his near single-handed attempts to foil the British attack on the town in 1813.

Another structure of great historic significance is the Rodgers House. Also, located on Washington Street. Built in 1787, it is the oldest structure in the city. Its most important attribute is the ownership by members of the naval Rodgers family for almost 100 years. George Washington, in his diary noted two stops to this house in 1787 and 1795.

Other structures of historical interest are the Aveilhe-Goldsborough House, built in 1801; Thomas Hopkins House, built in 1839 for Dr. Thomas C. Hopkins, a member of the Maryland legislature (1842-1843 and 1865-1866); Harrison Hopkins House, built by Dr. Henry Harrison Hopkins in 1868 (Henry Hopkins was the son of Dr. Thomas Hopkins); Seneca Mansion, built in 1885, and is the largest private residence ever constructed in Havre de Grace, containing twenty-two rooms; City Hall, built in 1870; St. John's Episcopal Church, built in 1809 is the city's oldest church, and one of the oldest surviving structures in the city. It is known for its remarkable Flemish bond brick walls, its well executed round arched windows and its early eighteenth century appearance.

Other buildings of interest are the Methodist Church (1901); Carver House (1885); Vosbury House (1889); Silverstein House (1865); Old Ordinary (1800); Abraham Jarett Thomas House (1834); and The Lockhouse. The Lockhouse, built in 1840 is another Canal Era brick structure. The front of the Lockhouse is on the river side, where two front doors indicate that the building served two functions; a home for the lock-tender and a canal office for collecting tolls for ships headed north toward Pennsylvania. Another historical object is the outlet lock directly in front of the Lockhouse. In the late 1980s the lock was de-silted (the process of removing sedimentary material), remnants of the original gates were removed from the lock and the lock walls were stabilized and straightened. The pivot bridge is a reconstruction, completed in 1984, of the original bridge that permitted mules and wagon traffic to cross over the canal to the tow path.

If you are interested in Harford County history, Havre de Grace and its many historical areas is not to be missed.


Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.


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