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This was a last- minute choice on a recent Maryland vacation. We had not seen much mention of this during our pre-vacation “research”. It was a great find, and a highlight of the trip. If you find yourself in the area, and enjoy this sort of thing- it’s well worth the trip. The site is located in the Susquehanna State Park, at Havre De Grace, Maryland. This is in the northern reaches of the Chesapeake Bay, where the Susquehanna river flows into the bay. This is about an hour Northeast of Baltimore.
The town of Havre de Grace was first settled in 1658, although the Susquehanna valley had seen some settlements earlier in the century. Edward Palmer had set-up a fur-trading post on Garrett Island near the mouth of the river in 1622. The area grew steadily, and the natural resources were fully utilized. Forest products, farm produce & grains, coal, and flint were abundant, and water powered mills to process these resources soon sprang up. Along the banks of the river, the Susquehanna & Tidewater Canal was constructed in 1836. The area prospered and became a center of industry, serving the Baltimore and Philadelphia PA. In the early part of the 20th century a railroad was laid on the towpath of the canal.
The first efforts to preserve the region as a park began with J. Gilman D’Arcy Paul’s donation of 300 acres of property in 1958. Today the park is 2753 acres and features 15 miles of trails.
On the trail
Along with the 15 miles of trails, there is plenty to see walking (or driving if you prefer) along the dirt roads in the area. There are also many miles of roads that are suitable for walking. The trails are also popular with mountain bikers.
Rock Run Mill
698 Stafford Rd, Havre De Grace, MD 21078
We started at the Rock Run gristmill. This amazingly preserved mill still operates on the weekends in the summer. Here at the intersection of Rock Run road and Stafford road, is the heart of this visit. The gristmill was constructed by John Stump in 1798. This was one of several mills constructed by Stump in the neighboring counties. Stump managed the mill up to the time of his death in 1816. At this time, it was in the hands of Stump’s son in-law, Dr. John Archer. The mill changed hands several times in the coming years. 1904 John Macklem took ownership, and in 1929 Wilford Wilkinson became the owner. 1960 saw ownership transferred to the Maryland Department of Parks & Forests. The mill was restored and opened to the public by 1965.
An interesting feature of the mill is the way the water-wheel is fed. The conventional way is to have the water supplied by a dammed creek, stream or rivers flow. The power (and speed) of the wheel was dependent on the flow of the water at the time. Although the mill is located on the river bank, the Susquehanna does not run the mill. At this site, the Rock Run Creek is dammed around 300 yards away. There is a gate at the dam to divert the water flow to a dry earthen raceway. This flow through the forest, and past the Carter/Archer house and is then piped across the road to the 12- ton waterwheel and its 84 buckets. This would make the mill consistently operable in most conditions. The mill also housed the post office from 1827 to 1856.
The springhouse & carriage house
Across the road is the springhouse, built in the early 1800’s. This would supply the Carter/Archer House with drinking water, and also served as a cooler. Next, we come to the carriage house. This served the family as a tool shed, horse & carriage storage and most of the duties of our garages now days. There are restrooms located inconspicuously inside today.
The Carter/Archer House
Further uphill stands the Carter/Archer house. John Carter (a business partner of John Stump) built this stone house in 1804. Carter died a year later, and Stump’s daughter Ann, and her husband, Dr. John Archer became the owners. At this home son James Jay Archer was born on December 19, 1817. He was the eighth of eleven children. He went on to practice law until 1847, when he was commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Army in the Mexican war. He left the Army after the close of the war for several years. In 1855 he was recommissioned, but resigned this at the start of the Civil War. He then joined the Confederate Army, where he rose to the rank of Brigadier General. Archer was wounded and captured as a prisoner of war at the battle of Gettysburg. The year of incarceration further aggravated his health. He was released in a prisoner exchange and rejoined the army, but died shortly thereafter on October 24, 1864.
The next stop is across the road at the toll house. Built in 1817, this served as the home for the toll keeper. Tolls were collected for use of the covered Port Deposit bridge that crossed the Susquehanna river here, and for the mule drawn barges that traveled the tidewater canal that opened in 1836. The canal stretched 45 miles from Havre De Grace MD to Wrightsville PA. There was a total of 29 locks, all constructed of granite. In 1856 the bridge washed away, and was not rebuilt. Today the bridge piers are still easily seen in the river. An 1889 flood closed the canal for several weeks, and in time use of the canal slowed, and by 1894 was closed for good. The railroad came through on the towpath in the 1920s. Today the railroad bed serves as a trail along the river. As you travel upstream (Northwest), the Susquehanna river is on your right, the Tidewater canal on your left. The Stafford road is further to the left of the canal, all three running parallel. We followed this for quite a ways and returned on the roadway. This takes you past some impressive rock rubble fields, remnants of an earlier glacial ice age.
The Miller’s House
Close to the intersection, you will find the Millers house. This was constructed at the same time as the gristmill, and served as the home for the miller (person that operated the gristmill). The miller would keep a portion of the grains he ground for customers as his pay (or “tottle” or “toll”).
Stafford Flint Furnace
From here we drove Northwest on the Stafford road. After a few scenic miles, the road turns away from the river and follows Deer Creek. As we crossed the creek on a bridge, we noticed a stone structure on or right. This is the Stafford Flint Mill blast furnace. Originally built in 1880 by Thomas Symington who planned to produce soapstone. Later it was acquired by Joshua C. Smith and B. Gilpin Smith, and here they produced flint for use in the porcelain industry. The flint was quarried nearby, and hauled by mule teams to the furnace. After the flint was fired to remove water, it was ground to a powder, washed, bagged and shipped by canal to Trenton NJ. This was used to porcelainize pots and pans, and for porcelain china.
Steppingstone Farm Museum
461 Quaker Bottom Rd. Havre de Grace, MD 21078 410-939-2299
A great side trip is to the restored Steppingstone Museum, located only a few miles from the Rock Run Mill. This farm is located in the hills of Harford county. Its focus is on the rural arts, crafts and way of life of the area, during the 1880’s through the 1920’s. While they were not official open on the day we visited (Easter Sunday), there was one fellow working in the period correct wood shop. All around were plenty of hand & pedal powered tools. He was a craftsman with an intimate knowledge of that eras woodworking skills and techniques. He told us a bit about the farm, and its plans for the future.
Despite not being open for the season, the grounds and buildings were very well kept. At the entrance, there are several pieces of antique farm equipment, and more on display at the parking area. The stone home was lovely, and had a stone laundry building behind it in the yard. Stone walls made you think you had stepped back in time. A few chickens and a rooster or two were in a coop, and a few goats took time to “say hi” as we walked past the barn. This is a non-profit organization, looking to preserve the last truly rural generations ways. They hold events and get some funding from outside organizations – so if you visit, please stuff a few dollars in the donation boxes or you can donate online. They will appreciate every dollar. There are many interesting workshops and events happening throughout the summer, a minimal fee is charged for these. For more information on Steppingstone Farm- http://www.steppingstonemuseum.org/about
Downtown Havre de Grace
700 Concord St, Havre De Grace, MD 21078
We finished our trip with a jaunt into the town proper. The town was named after the French port of Le Havre, because of Revolutionary War generals comments of it reminding him of the French Port.It translates to “harbor of grace”. It was originally called Harmer’s Town, and was incorporated in 1785. It narrowly missed being the capital of the United States, being beaten by one ballot during a 1789 congressional vote. It is located at the mouth of the Susquehanna river and the head of Chesapeake Bay. The town was razed on May 3rd, 1813 by British rear admiral George Cockburn, during the war of 1812. American Lieutenant John O’Neil manned a canon singlehandedly in defense of the town. He was wounded and captured, but soon released. In a show of gratitude, made O’Neil and his descendants, keepers of the Concord Point Light house. The lighthouse, built in 1827, is the second oldest in Maryland. The 30’ lighthouse was made of local Port Deposit granite. It was decommissioned in 1975. Today it is open to visitors from April to October on the weekends. Even when not open to climb to the top, you can still visit the light. The Maritime Museum is adjacent to the lighthouse park. It is small, but packed full of artifacts and displays of local life on the water. From there we walked the ¾ mile boardwalk promenade, and this will take you past the famous Bayou Hotel. This impressive 60 room stone hotel was completed in 1921. It was constructed to cater to waterfowl hunters.
This was pretty much a great day of history, plenty of walking and making memories. If you are in the area, you should plan on spending a day here. There is plenty of information available on all of these places, check the references section below for links. If you enjoyed this, please share it with a friend.
Maryland State Archives
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Steppingstone Farm Museum
Concord Point Lighthouse
Havre De Grace
About the Author
I am a life-long resident of the north country, calling Edwards my home. I have always had a passion for the outdoors, and for local history. I recently started this site to share places that have been part of our local history and heritage. I hope you get a chance to hike some of these trails for yourself, and reflect on the rich history of those that walked here before you. And if not, sit back and experience these from where ever you are right now. Either way, enjoy!
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