Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Chesapeake Bay
By Deane Winegar
In typical Maryland fashion, Harford County adroitly balances its quiet rural nature and its Chesapeake Bay history with modern advances including state-of-the-art estuarine research laboratories (Otter Point Creek), testing grounds for high-tech weapons (Aberdeen), luxurious golf courses, and fine restaurants.
History is preserved at Havre de Grace, where museums pay tribute to decoy carvers, oyster tongers, and Chesapeake Bay boat builders. At the Ladew Topiary Gardens (410-557-9570) in Monkton, native vegetation blends with sculpted trees and shrubs in a water garden, a berry garden, and flower gardens on 22 acres. The gardens adorn the grounds of a Manor House with a room called the Oval Library, which was selected as one of the 100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America.
Near the center of the county is Bel Air, the county seat, where a variety of restaurants and quaint shops line historic Main Street. The Palladian structure called Liriodendron Mansion (410-879-4424 or 410-838-3942), built at 502 West Gordon Street in 1898, is now maintained as a Bel Air museum.
Between Havre de Grace and Bel Air on US 40 is Aberdeen, a town closely linked to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is a military reservation on the large peninsula just south of town. The citizens of Aberdeen are as proud of their past, however, as they are of their military connections. Artifacts and memorabilia from the social, economic, and cultural development of the city are displayed at Aberdeen Rooms Archives and Museum (410-273-6325) at 58 North Parke Street.
For those who want to experience the Chesapeake Bay firsthand, charters and tours are available. The skipjack Martha Lewis (800-406-0766 or 410-939-3998) is available for cruises from the Havre de Grace lighthouse pier. This V-bottom, two-sail bateau is one of the few remaining dredge boats of the once-thriving Chesapeake Bay oyster fleet.
[Fig. 16(1)] Just east of the Baltimore County line in Joppatowne is Mariner Point Park, with 38 acres that provide an inviting place to fish, spread a picnic blanket, hike a trail, or launch a boat in the Gunpowder River. The park also has pavilions that may be rented as well as playgrounds and a fishing pier.
[Fig. 16(2)] Just south of the busy I-95 and US 40 corridor in southern Harford County, between Edgewood and Aberdeen, is the sensitive ecosystem of Otter Point Creek, which joins Bush River at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. The creek’s habitats are studied at the 672-acre Otter Point Creek component of the Chesapeake National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). The reserve is one of three in Maryland that are part of the national reserve system. (Jug Bay and Monie Bay are the other two).
The 350-acre Melvin G. Bosley Conservancy and 61-acre Leight Park are part of the reserve. There is limited access to the conservancy, but it is a good place to see beaver, songbirds, waterfowl, and wildflowers. Interpretive programs are available by request. The county has a public boat landing at nearby Otter Point Landing.
At Leight Park is the new Anita C. Leight Estuary Center where the staff is putting together exhibits about the Chesapeake Bay and its environs. The center, open year-round on weekends, has a discovery room with interactive displays and live animals, a library, an auditorium, and a laboratory.
Nature trails and canoe trails on the reserve provide access to a diversity of upper Chesapeake Bay habitats including creeks, rivers, lagoons, tidal marshes, scrub and shrub wetlands, and forested uplands—a diversity that attracts a tremendous variety of birds and wildlife. Spring warblers travel from Central and South America to nest in the park’s forests.
The various ecosystems are also ideal for a wide range of vegetation. Rooted aquatic plants such as water milfoil (Miriophyllulm spicatum) and wild celery (Vallisneria americana) grow in the shallow water at the front of the marsh. Common marsh plants such as pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata), arrow arum (Peltandra virginica), and spatterdock, or yellow pond lily (Nuphar luteum), dominate the marsh, while the higher elevations give way to stands of cattail (Typha lattifolia) and sweet flag (Acorus calamus).Several plants rare to the region or to Maryland have been identified on Otter Point Creek, including grass-like beak rush (Rhynchospora globularis) and Baltic rush (Juncus balticus).
Canoeists may catch glimpses of river otters, beaver, muskrats, and raccoons. Large marsh birds such as herons and egrets are common, as are black ducks, Virginia rails, canvasbacks, and spotted sandpipers. Bird-watchers have also sighted the American bittern and upland sandpiper.
Other marsh critters include snapping turtles and painted turtles, the American eel, blue crabs, bay anchovies, and spottail shiners.
The reserve is administered nationally and managed by the state with cooperation from county and volunteer organizations. Research conducted on site provides a better understanding of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Scientists share their knowledge with the community through workshops, cultural history presentations, and research seminars. They also work with high school and college students to monitor estuary waters and help solve pollution problems.
[Fig. 16(3)] The U. S. Army Ordnance Museum is located at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, where artillery has been tested since 1917. With 8,000 artifacts, the museum has what has been called the most extensive collection of combat vehicles, artillery, small arms, ammunition, and military material in existence. On display are body armor, the Gatling gun, and Gen. John Pershing’s Locomobile from World War I. At the Proving Ground, visitors can also explore the Army’s 25-acre Tank and Artillery Park and drive the Mile of Tanks. In commemoration of Armed Forces Day, the Army fires artillery and parades its military vehicles through Aberdeen every third Saturday in May.
[Fig. 16(4)] This stone tower is on Pooles Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay off the southern tip of Harford County’s Gunpowder Neck. The island takes its name from Nathaniel Powell, one of the men accompanying Captain John Smith when he landed on the island in 1608. Over the centuries, the name Powell underwent several transformations until it became Poole.This lighthouse resembles the white granite tower of the Concord Point light at Havre de Grace and many others built by a local contractor, John Donohoo. This one was erected in 1825, automated in 1917, and closed in 1939. It is part of Aberdeen Proving Ground and not open to the public.
[Fig. 16(5)] Barges loaded with coal and farm products and pulled by mules once carried goods 45 miles up the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal between Havre de Grace and Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. The museum is located at the southern end of the canal, which is no longer in use. The 1836 lockhouse, built in 1840, has been restored. Demonstrations show how the lock worked.
[Fig. 16(6)] Watch the sparks fly as a blacksmith hammers hot iron into shape at this turn-of-the-century farm museum with a stone farmhouse. There is also a replica of a canning house. A cooper, a weaver, and several other tradespeople in period dress demonstrate their crafts. The museum is located on a bluff overlooking the Susquehanna River. Special events include Civil War remembrances, the Scottish Festival, a fall harvest festival, and a Christmas open house.
[Fig. 16(7)] This famous museum features excellent examples of Chesapeake Bay working decoys. An annual Duck Fair in September draws decoy carvers, artists, duck callers, and decoy buyers from up and down the East Coast.
[Fig. 16(8)] Learn the history of local seafarers and see artifacts and photographs from Colonial times to the present. Museum expansion includes more exhibit area, lecture rooms, library, and a gift shop.
[Fig. 16(9)] Go to the foot of Lafayette Street in Havre de Grace to see one of the oldest lighthouses still in operation on the East Coast. Concord Point—once known as Point Conquest—marks the place where the powerful flow of the Susquehanna meets the tidal Chesapeake Bay. The treacherous currents spurred the General Assembly of Maryland to authorize construction of the lighthouse in 1826.The Concord Point’s tower, constructed of Port Deposit Granite and now restored to original condition, was built in 1827, manned from 1829 to 1920, and remained in use until 1975. It was originally lighted by nine whale-oil lamps with tin reflectors.Visitors may climb the 36-foot tower for views of the bay and Havre de Grace. The lighthouse keeper’s home—a stone house across the street from the light tower—is undergoing restoration.
Listed here are a few of many fine restaurants near the Chesapeake Bay in Harford County.
Gabler’s Shore Restaurant. 2200 Perryman Road, Aberdeen. Known for its plain atmosphere and perfectly seasoned steamed crabs. Beer on tap. Voted Baltimore’s Best Crab House five years by Baltimore Magazine. Open seasonally. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (410) 272-0626.
MacGregor’s. 331 St. John’s Street, Havre de Grace. Seafood and crab cakes are the specialties of this restaurant overlooking the bay. The decor includes carved decoys and old prints of the town. Moderate. Phone (410) 939-3003 or (800) 300-6319.
Bayou Restaurant. 927 Pulaski Highway (MD 40), Havre de Grace. A local favorite for over 40 years, this restaurant specializes in fresh seafood, steaks, and veal. Homemade pies are baked daily. Work of local artists is featured. Moderate. Phone (410) 939-3565.
Tidewater Grille. 300 Foot of Franklin Street, Havre de Grace. This three-star restaurant has a waterfront location where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay. Accessible by car and boat. Authentic regional American fare. Moderate. Phone (410) 939-3313 or (410) 575-7045.
Most motels and inns near the Chesapeake Bay are located along the I-95 corridor at Edgewood, Aberdeen, and Havre de Grace. B&Bs are mostly in historic Havre de Grace.
Best Western Invitational Inn. 1709 Edgewood Road (Exit 77A off I-95 at SR 24), Edgewood. Complimentary deluxe continental breakfast, outdoor pool, exercise facility, 3-diamond rating. Moderate. Phone (410) 679-9700.
Days Inn. 2116 Emmorton Park Road, Edgewood. Conveniently located at Exit 77A of I-95, this motel is newly renovated. Pets are welcome. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (410) 671-9990.
4 Points Hotel by Sheraton. I-95 and MD 24, Aberdeen. This Sheraton hotel is convenient for travelers on I-95. Moderate. Phone (410) 273-6300.
Quality Inn & Suites. 793 W. Belair Avenue, Aberdeen. Free continental breakfast, outdoor pool, 4 miles from Chesapeake Bay public access, 5 miles from Ripken Museum. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (410) 272-6000.
Currier House B&B. 800 South Market Street, Havre de Grace. The granddaughter of the original owner of this historic B&B is the innkeeper. The inn has a waterfront view and is near antique shops and a golf course. Moderate. Phone (410) 939-7886 or (800) 827-2889.
Spencer Silver Mansion B&B. 200 South Union Avenue, Havre de Grace. This restored Victorian mansion has elegant waterside accommodations in the heart of the historic district. Expensive. Phone (410) 939-1097.
Vandiver Inn. 410 South Union Street, Havre de Grace. This three-story structure, built in 1886, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rooms are furnished with antiques. Breakfast is included in the affordable rates. Close to Chesapeake Bay. Moderate. Phone (410) 939-5200 or (800) 245-1655.
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