There are many times when the New Jersey shore is the ideal vacation destination. Throughout the year, we make it a point to get down to towns like Asbury Park, Cape May, Sea Isle City, and Sandy Hook. However, there is one weekend a year when the Jersey shore is strictly to be avoided: Labor Day Weekend. At the beginning of September, hordes of visitors flock to the shore to soak in one last weekend of summer, bringing with them waiting lines to get to your favorite restaurant, crowded stores, and traffic. Lots of traffic. What, then, are a couple of adventurers to do on a long, beautiful weekend?
Fortunately, there are plenty of less crowded destinations within easy driving distance of our home in New Jersey. Only two hours south of us is a region neither my wife nor I had spent much time visiting: the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland. Using the city of Havre de Grace as our base, we spent time exploring this section of the Mid-Atlantic region. Loading up the car early on Saturday morning, we departed for The Old Line State.
Our Havre de Grace Weekend
Our weekend adventure: a journey into the northeastern corner of Maryland. Something I take for granted living in the northeastern United States is just how close everything is. A round trip through three states takes less than 300 miles… welcome to the Northeast!
Leaving a little after 7:00 am, we encountered little, if any, traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike as we headed south.
Cossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge, we drove across the New Jersey and Delaware State line – literally! Although I have crossed it numerous times, until today I never realized the line is drawn across the bridge (look on the road surface, about twenty feet in front of the car – photo credit to my wife for grabbing this shot).
In less than two hours, we had crossed into Maryland – the Old Line State. The state gets its moniker from a regiment of troops from Maryland during the Revolutionary War. In the Battle of Brooklyn, a force of 13,000 American soldiers engaged a British contingent nearly three times larger. The lines of soldiers from Pennsylvania and Delaware retreated hastily, leaving 250 soldiers from Maryland to hold off an advance of 2,000 British fighters. The Maryland line held long enough for Washington to conduct an effective retreat… and the state’s nickname was born (via Preservation Maryland).
A short distance from the Maryland welcome sign was this marker indicating that we were crossing the Mason and Dixon line. The name comes from the work of two surveyors – Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon – who established the boundaries of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia in the 1760s. It is sometimes associated with the boundary between slave and non-slave states (although New Jersey, which is north of the line, was a slave state until 1865). The Mason-Dixon Line has since taken on a life of its own – a cultural line of demarcation between North and South (via Wikipedia). Elk Landing
Our first stop in Maryland was to Elk Landing. The site had been settled as early as the late 17th century, and this location was a trading post for settlers and Native Americans. This stone house was erected in 1780.
The interior of the house was open to visitors. After having fallen into ruin, the house is slowly being restored to its 18th-century appearance.
The other major structure on the property is the Hollingsworth House, a late-18th century house that was expanded by later generations of the Hollingsworth family. The house now serves as a museum, chronicling the history of this section of Maryland (via The Historic Elk Landing Foundation).
Beside the two structures, the property also has the remains of an earthen fort from the War of 1812. In addition, there was once a shipyard here as well: its location beside Little Elk Creek, once a major route for shipping goods and produce, made it an ideal location for building massive, 200-foot barges. Although it was only a quick stop, we certainly learned a lot about this historic location.
There is no pavement on the property – you simply drive across sections of the lawn that have been worn into a road of sorts. Engaging my Accord in “off-road mode,” we headed for our next destination. Wedding Capital of the East
Our next stop was to the town of Elkton, once known as the “Quick Marriage Capital of the East.” This building was once the “Historic Little Wedding Chapel,” the last surviving chapel from a time when establishments catering to couples seeking a quick wedding dotted the streets of Elkton.
Sadly, the Historic Little Wedding Chapel closed its doors in 2016, but the Maryland State Highway Administration has left a permanent marker to this footnote in the institution of marriage. For much of the early 20th century, Maryland had no waiting period for issuing a marriage license, so couples from the eastern seaboard seeking a quick exchange of vows would come to Maryland. As Elkton is the first major town across Maryland’s border with Delaware, it became a destination for couples from northern states. Although the practice ended in 1938, Elkton remained a marriage destination of choice for years. Perhaps the most famous celebrity to wed in Elkton was baseball great Willie Mays, who married his bride Marguerite in 1956 (via Maryland History by the Object). Havre de Grace
We arrived in Havre de Grace at lunchtime, and stopped at the Tidewater Grille. Located on the northeastern coast of the city, the restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining, along with a spectacular view of the Susquehanna River.
Not a bad view during lunch! Havre de Grace sits at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, where it joins the Chesapeake Bay.
It would be a crime to visit Maryland and not try the crab cakes! Maryland is known for its crab cakes, and my crab cake sandwich did not disappoint!
Tidewater Grille is also able to make gluten-free crab cakes, which my wife ordered (and she enjoyed every mouthful). While Tidewater Grille’s prices are reasonable for a resort town, this was our most expensive meal of the weekend, a direct result of our choice of entrees. Crab prices have skyrocketed this summer, owing to pandemic-related labor shortages affecting both the fishing and transportation of crabs (via NPR). Was the meal a bit of a splurge? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. Absolutely, yes. Concord Point Lighthouse
After lunch, we began our tour of Havre de Grace at Concord Point Lighthouse. The northernmost lighthouse on the Chesapeake, the 36′ foot tall Concord Point was built in 1827 (via Wikipedia).
Talk about a family’s labor of love – four generations of the O’Neill family were keepers at Concord Point. The lighthouse is part of a large park that sits along the southeastern edge of the town.
Across the street from the lighthouse is the Keepers House, where the lighthouse keeper and their family would live. The lighthouse fell into disrepair in the 20th century, and the Keepers House passed through a succession of owners (including serving as a bar and restaurant), before the state restored both structures. The house now serves as a museum.
While the house has changed significantly since its construction in 1827, remnants of the original structure are left exposed throughout the museum. Check out the fireplace!
My wife pointed out this exposed section of ceiling – the ceiling was left open during the house’s restoration in order to demonstrate the skill of 19th century carpenters. In 1827, major joints like this one were constructed without the use of nails.
Numerous rooms demonstrated the architectural changes to the house over the past two hundred years. In the kitchen, the original 1827 floor has been unearthed, which sits about two feet beneath the current floor level from 1884. Even this modest keepers house can tell us a lot about the techniques of carpenters, masons, and blacksmiths from two hundred years ago. The museum was small, but fascinating! Our lighthouse curiosity satisfied, we set off to explore more of this historic section of the city. The Havre de Grace Maritime Museum
For a city built beside a bay, seafaring has served a critical role in its history and economy. Since 1988, the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum has served to chronicle the story of the city’s rich seagoing traditions.
As one might expect, there were exhibits on fishing, hunting, sailing, and competitive boat racing. Most interesting to us, however, were the exhibits located beyond the main gallery…
The Havre de Grace Maritime Museum did a fantastic job telling the story of the peoples who lived along the Chesapeake long before the first settlers arrived. This exhibit details the history of the Susquehannock people in what is now Maryland.
Nearby is another small, but powerful exhibit. This one is on Havre de Grace’s role in the Underground Railroad. Works created by modern artists sits beside artifacts from the 18th and 19th centuries, all while telling the stories of slaves attempting to escape to freedom.
This is a recreation of the crate used by Henry “Box” Brown, a man who escaped slavery by hiding in a 2′ x 2′ x 3′ box for two days as the crate was transported from Virginia to Philadelphia. His journey included being transported across the Susquehanna River from Havre de Grace to Perryville.
In the lower level of the museum is an exhibit that is both intriguing and disturbing. An artist has created works made solely from pieces of trash removed from the Susquehanna River.
Also in the lower level is a boatbuilding workshop, where volunteers build recreations of early- and mid-20th century boats. Although small, the museum was a fun way to pass some time and learn more about the region. Around Town
As we walked through the town, we saw several eye-catching murals. This one is dedicated to the Havre de Grace Racetrack, a horse-racing track that operated from 1912 to 1950. Beside this mural is also an original ticket booth and part of the starting gate. Among the horses in the mural is Seabiscuit, whose story was made into a 2003 movie staring Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges (via Past the Wire).
Havre de Grace also has a thriving antiques market. We stopped in a few shops, and while my wife emerged empty-handed, I gladly plunked down some money for this 1973 ad for the Honda Civic. Did your humble author manage to find the only Honda-related product in several antique stores? Yep. And did he buy it? You bet he did!
As we walked beside the Susquehanna River, we came to a marshy spot inhabited by several large birds. This Great Blue Heron came striding by…
…This Green Heron was too busy searching for a meal to pay me any attention…
…the same goes for this egret, who was on the hunt…
…but fortunately, these geese decided to stage a dramatic liftoff for me!
A 3/4 of a mile boardwalk runs along the shore of Havre de Grace, offering beautiful views of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake. If this shot looks familiar…
…you might remember it from my Art of Photography post. I took this photo several years ago when visiting Havre de Grace with friends. It remains one of my favorite photos, and a large canvas print of it hangs in my home. MacGregor’s
For dinner, we stopped by MacGregor’s Restaurant. Sitting with a view of the river, we started our meal with shrimp steamed in Old Bay beer broth, and paired it with Rhode Island-style calamari. Yum. Yum. Yum.
We then split a gluten-free flatbread, covered in shrimp and lump crab meat. So very, very good! Susquehanna State Park
Waking up early on Sunday, we decided to make one more stop before beginning our drive home, paying a visit to Susquehanna State Park, a 2700-acre park located along the banks of the Susquehanna River. Several historic buildings dot the park, including the Carter-Archer House. Built in 1804 by businessman John Stump, this mansion passed through a succession of wealthy local families before becoming state property in the 1960s (via Maryland Department of Natural Resources).
I’m not sure the mansion’s carriage barn was designed for Hondas. It made for a cool backdrop, though.
The centerpiece of the village is the Grist Mill. Built in 1798 by John Stump, the mill was once a major producer of flour. It still functions to this day, and corn-grinding demonstrations are held every weekend during the summer.
On the top of a hill in the park is the Steppingstone Farm Museum. Originally a working farm, the property was purchased by J. Edmund Bull, a wealthy banking executive who turned the property into a living museum, chronicling the history of farming in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (via Steppingstone Farm Museum).
Not every building is original to the property. The Foard Blacksmith Shop, built in 1882, operated for over a hundred years in a different part of Havre de Grace. Upon its closure, the museum purchased the building and moved it to the property.
We arrived early and had the farm to ourselves. Our only company were these feathered friends…
Steppingstone is serious about their chickens! Placards share each chicken’s name, breed, and birth years.
I’m guessing the chickens get regular exercise, too! After enjoying the state park, it was time to set off for home. Winterthur
Before returning to New Jersey, however, we decided to make one last stop in Delaware: I wanted to introduce my wife to Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library, one of my favorite places in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Winterthur is the former home of Henry du Pont, a member of the du Pont family that made its fortune in chemical and gunpowder production. Henry remodeled his family’s 30-room home into a 175-room mansion. Toward the end of his life, Henry converted the home into a museum of the history of decorative arts in America (via Wikipedia). Longtime readers might remember Winterthur from when my Mom and I visited the museum for their Yuletide holiday celebration.
Henry du Pont was voracious collector, using his fortune to purchase seemingly countless objects that tell the story of American history. The museum houses several galleries displaying his collection.
Henry du Pont spent nearly $70 million assembling his collection of pieces he deemed as important to American history (via New York Times).
Henry was particularly enthralled with objects that reflected nature – whether that was dressers inlaid with shells, rugs with floral designs, or in this case, an ornate aquarium from the 1860s.
Henry purchased this wooden box, which was made in Massachusetts around 1698. Using chemical analysis, museum researchers were able to determine the residue of paint pigments that remained on the box at the microscopic level, and create a representation of how the box looked when it was new. Of everything I saw during our trip, this is what stood out to me the most… just how colorful historic objects could be when new.
Soup, anyone? This brass tureen, made in France in the early 18th century, was one of several on display. We saw as much of the museum as possible, but there was still plenty left to tour – we simply ran out of time! We’ll most certainly have to return.
As magnificent as the mansion is, the landscaping is even more stunning. Past the reflecting pool begins the gardens. Winterthur offers 60 acres of gardens for visitors to enjoy.
In a wooded section of the gardens is the Enchanted Forest, a small village that looks like it belongs in a fairy tale. It is a popular stop for children of all ages. After a fun afternoon at Winterthur, it was time to set off for home.
Crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge on our way home, we again passed the New Jersey and Delaware state line.
Once again, the Accord got us home, safe and sound. 180,000 miles is right around the corner! Updates
To begin, I wanted to offer a thank you to readers who reached out to me after the remnants of Hurricane Ida passed through New Jersey. My area received significant rainfall, leading to flash floods throughout the region. Although the tornados that touched down in southern New Jersey did not affect us, we still had to deal with significant water. Fortunately, my neighborhood’s drainage system is well-designed and the houses sit at a higher elevation than some of the surrounding areas.
That said, the loss of life and property was horrific. If you are looking to help those struggling to cope with the effects of the storm,
this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer offers numerous ways to support those affected by the Hurricane Ida.
The morning after the storm, my wife drove to her office to post signs that it was closed for the day. Along the way, she passed countless scenes of abandoned cars, many of which have been ruined by the previous night’s floodwaters. After a lifetime in New Jersey, I have seen storms wreak havoc along our shore communities, but never have I seen such a violent and destructive storm inland. A High Mileage Update
I wanted to close with a bit of more lighthearted news. After work, my wife suggested we take a drive to Asbury Park for dinner. Talk about a brilliant idea! We sat at a table on the patio of the Robinson Ale House, enjoying our meal with a view of the Atlantic Ocean.
We began our meal with shrimp guacamole and a basket of tortilla chips (yum!).
While my wife had the Boardwalk Salad (shrimp, arugula, olives, cucumbers, goat cheese, corn, and herb vinaigrette), I relished in my choice of fish tacos – maybe one of the best fish taco platters I’ve ever eaten. So good!
After dinner, we took a stroll on the boardwalk to check out some of the latest murals.
Not a bad way to spend a weeknight! So why did we come to Asbury Park?
Because tramps like us, baby we were born to run! My wife thought it would be a fun way to roll 180,000 miles with my Accord… and she was right! Another milestone in the books, and less than 20,000 miles now until the big 200k. Onward!! Wrapping Up
Our trip to Havre de Grace was a great way to spend Labor Day weekend. From historic sites, to beautiful views by the Chesapeake, to great food, to antique shopping, the town has a lot to offer first-time visitors. If you are stopping by, the
Havre de Grace Maritime Museum is open from 10:00-5:00 pm Monday through Saturday, and 1:00-5:00 pm on Sunday. Tickets are $4 per person, although families can enter for a total of $9 regardless of party size (2 adults and as many children as you’d care to bring). Concord Point Lighthouse and the Keepers House are open Saturday from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm and Sunday from 1:00 – 5:00 pm through the end of October, and is free to visit. Finally, Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library in Winterthur, Delaware is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Admission is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors age 62 and older, $18 for students age 12 and older, $6 for children age 2-11, and free for children under 2.
Thanks for coming along on this Maryland and Delaware adventure along the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.