A candlelight tour with a difference

December 12, 1993|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Contributing Writer

While Annapolis takes its visitors on candlelight tours of stately old homes, and Fells Point features visits to historic waterfront houses, Havre de Grace's candlelight tour is a bit different.

Sure, Havre de Grace's tour, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. today, includes plenty of Victorian homes with evergreen boughs, and lots of stops along historic streets.

But what other city boasts a holiday candlelight walk through a darkened duck decoy museum?

Madelyn Shank sees nothing unusual in having the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum on the tour. Mrs. Shank, a town native who helps organize the tour for the Susquehanna Museum of Havre de Grace, feels the decoy stop is a fitting tour component for a place that proclaims itself "Decoy Capital of the World."

Mrs. Shank grew up with decoys. She is the daughter of the late Madison Mitchell, known locally as the master of duck decoy carving, the man who taught everybody else the craft. A section of the Decoy Museum is devoted to Mr. Mitchell. He is represented there by a wax figure carefully carving -- what else -- a decoy.

Visitors who participate in the self-guided holiday tour of Havre de Grace will have the chance to see not only the museum, but eight other homes and businesses in the historic district, all by candlelight.

Stops include homes built in the Victorian style from 1880 to 1910, when Havre de Grace prospered as an industrial and canning center. Many of the buildings on the tour are private residences. Others have been converted into businesses, restaurants and offices.

Admission to the candlelight tour is $10 per person at the Decoy Museum. The fee buys a pin and a printed guide. Proceeds go to the Susquehanna Museum of Havre de Grace, the last stop on the tour.

Mrs. Shank estimates that the tour, from the Decoy Museum at the foot of Giles Street to the Susquehanna Museum at the foot of Conesto Street, is less than two miles. Dressed for the weather, visitors may walk the entire route. Parking is available for those who prefer to drive.

Visitors who have taken the Havre de Grace candlelight tour before, Mrs. Shank said, won't see the same places this year.

"We try not to have the same homes again and again," she said. "We pick new homes each year," starting the selection process in July. She said holiday tours in other cities frequently feature the same homes year after year.

"We went for variety this year," she said. "We have the oldest building in town and the newest."

Here are a few of the buildings on Havre de Grace's Candlelight Tour today:

* The home of Robert and Marie Garske in the Bayou Hotel, perched on a grassy bank above the Susquehanna River at 300 Commerce St. The hotel once served well-to-do gunners and duck hunters who ventured to Havre de Grace from Washington, Philadelphia and New York. Now, it is a condominium complex.

Mrs. Shank said the Garske's third- and fourth-story corner rooms offer wide, unobstructed views of the Susquehanna Flats and the Chesapeake Bay.

* Havre de Grace's newly finished Promenade. The wide, wooden walkway below the Decoy Museum and Bayou Hotel offers visitors the chance to observe waterfowl and other wildlife up close. The walkway extends from Tydings Memorial Park to the Concord Point Lighthouse.

* Concord Point Lighthouse, a whitewashed stone tower at the foot of Lafayette Street. Here marks the spot where the Susquehanna meets the Chesapeake. Built in 1827, the lighthouse was in continuous operation for 150 years. Now, it is maintained as a National Historic Site.

Mrs. Shank said visitors will be able to walk inside the lighthouse, but probably not up to the light, which is accessible only by ladder.

* Havre de Grace's newly completed City Hall at 400 Pennington Ave. The building opened in 1992. Mrs. Shank said its modernity contrasts nicely with the old Victorian structures on the tour.

* Elizabeth Rodgers House, the oldest building in Havre de Grace, built in 1788. Mrs. Shank and her husband, Ellsworth, bought the Georgian townhouse at 226 N. Washington St. in 1980. They have since restored it and moved in.

* The home of Robert and L.J. Wood at 300 Warren St. The residence sits on stilts in the water. Mrs. Shank said Mr. Wood built the home himself. He also built the 64-foot sailboat tied to the nearby slip. The Woods' boat, "Hummer," will be open for the tour, as well as their home.

* Susquehanna Havre de Grace Museum in the Lockhouse at the foot of Conesto Street. The Lockhouse, with its rose-red brick and cream-colored shutters, is the last stop on the tour.

The building was once the home and office of a lock tender who monitored traffic moving up and down the Tidewater Canal and collected tolls from vessels. Built in 1840, the Lockhouse has been fully restored.

Refreshments will be served at the Lockhouse throughout Sunday's candlelight tour. A boutique, featuring crafts made by local artisans, will also have items for sale inside the Lockhouse.

Mrs. Shank is hoping favorable weather Sunday evening will entice tourists and local visitors to take the Havre de Grace tour. It's fun for them, she said, and provides funds for the Susquehanna Museum at the Lockhouse. The museum receives no public funding.

"When we first started in 1973, we got a grant of $90,000 from the state," she said. "We get nothing from the county, and the only contribution from the city is they cut our grass."

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