Havre de Grace is a charmer with a slightly salty history

NEIGHBORHOOD PROFILE : Havre de Grace

Residents stroll lovely streets and tell the tale of 1813

January 14, 2001|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As Baltimore and Washington seemingly continue to march toward each other, slowly becoming one megalopolis, homesteaders can still find small-town charm just 39 miles northeast of Baltimore along Interstate 95 in Harford County.

Situated where the Susquehanna greets the Chesapeake Bay, Havre de Grace is a town that naturally offers maritime flavor, along with generous doses of history. And into that mix, this charming haven presents all the village appeal of a Currier & Ives greeting card.

The residents are proud of their town with its wide, tree-lined streets where grand Victorian houses add liberal touches of grace and elegance. Likewise, they are proud to tell of the town's beginnings when in 1813 the British plundered and burned large portions of the waterfront while potato cannons fired relentlessly in defense.

But to get to know Havre de Grace is to walk it, something that the residents relish. Indeed, several versions of walking maps are available in the little shops of the commercial district and at such tourist attractions as the Maritime and Decoy museums along the boardwalk at water's edge.

Tourists and locals alike will recommend the boardwalk as a great starting point for a leisurely stroll.

Small, but nevertheless impressive, is the Concord Point Lighthouse. Serving as a beacon to port for sailors and boaters for more than 160 years, it is the oldest continually operated lighthouse in Maryland.

The panoramic view of town and water from the top makes the short climb - approximately 36 feet from ground level - well worth the effort. Villagers are often seen sketching and photographing the historic structure, stately in any light or season.

While the Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse in 1975, it continues to be used nightly, the light turned on by a watchman and the facility maintained by a residents' group incorporated as the Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse Inc. The restoration of the keeper's home is under way. Upon completion, the home will present a fine picture of the life and times of 19th-century lighthouse keepers. Ask any resident to name a favorite thing about Havre de Grace and the Concord Lighthouse is almost always at the top of the list.

That, and the town's selfless way of "taking care of its own," according to Carol Nemeth, a resident for the past 10 years.

A transplant from Lansdale, Pa., Nemeth, with help from her 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, runs the Spencer Silver Mansion, a Victorian-era Grande Dame on Union Avenue that operates as a bed and breakfast.

Nemeth embraces the town's quiet way of life as well as the "interesting mix" of townspeople.

"There are professionals who commute to Baltimore and Philadelphia, as well as retirees and vacation home owners," Nemeth said.

"There are even those who are realizing another love in life - artists, for example, who [come to town] and open a shop."

A walk down the business district of Washington and St. John streets with their abundance of antique shops, pubs, cafes and curiosity shops, proves her point.

Kara Phipps, a real estate agent with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., in Abingdon, agrees with Nemeth's assessment. She recently sold a home to a working couple from Baltimore who fell in love with the charm of Havre de Grace as well as the nearness of Interstate 95 and the fast commute from there.

"One of our most valuable resources is the water, and the waterfront condominiums with piers for boats sell very quickly," Phipps said.

Ranging in price from $185,000 to $312,000, the condos along Seneca Way offer low-maintenance vinyl siding and exterior balconies and decks. Another subdivision, Bayview Estates, sits on a hill overlooking the water. Bayview Estates offers townhouses starting in the $90,000 range as well as detached homes in the vicinity of $170,000 to $200,000.

Phipps said Victorian duplexes are available as well, some starting as low as $89,000, but can be as high as $200,000. The price depends on the amount of updating required."[Havre de Grace is] a town going through a face lift," Phipps said. "Especially with the resurgence in the rehabilitation of older homes. That, and the fact that many people are gravitating toward waterfront living."

Still, Carol Nemeth is quick to point out that small-town living is not for everyone.

"If you value your privacy, you are less likely to have that in a small town," she said. "You can't lose yourself the way it's possible in a big city."

Havre de Grace

ZIP code: 21078

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 50 minutes

Public schools: Havre de Grace Elementary, Middle and High schools

Shopping: Havre de Grace Plaza, Perryville Outlets

Homes currently on market: 73

Average listing price: $140,618 *

Average sale price: $136,387 *

Average days on market: 122 *

Sale price as percentage of listing price: 96.99% ** Based on 146 sales in the past 12 months as compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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