Havre de Grace has played host to major events in the past, but with many taking place on the outskirts of town, municipal leaders have been challenged to find ways to bring visitors into the heart of the city.
That won't be an issue in early May, however, as an estimated 20,000 people are expected to be in the city's downtown district to help commemorate the 200th anniversary of the 1813 invasion of Havre de Grace by British troops during the War of 1812.
"This event is planned so it is from lighthouse to lockhouse," said Brigitte Peters, tourism and marketing manager for the city and co-chair of the War of 1812 Committee. "The event is happening right in the heart of our city."
Peters said committee members met with downtown merchants recently to tell them about the tremendous opportunities available to them in connection with the various public events planned the first weekend in May.
"We're encouraging them to bring in products that would be attractive to these visitors that are coming in," she said of the merchants.
Havre de Grace's Commemoration Weekend will take place from May 3 to 5, and will include a re-enactment of the British landing near the lighthouse at Concord Point, and the ensuing skirmishes with local militia through the city to the grounds of the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House, about a mile and a half to the north.
Led by Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Cockburn, the British destroyed much of the city during their invasion, and looted St. John's Episcopal Church.
It was the beginning of the Chesapeake Campaign of 1813 and 1814, when enemy forces invaded Maryland via the Chesapeake Bay, captured and burned Washington, D.C., and pushed American defenders back until stopped at the Battle of Baltimore in September of 1814.
The failure of the British to capture Fort McHenry after bombarding it throughout the night inspired the penning of the "Star Spangled Banner."
Peters said the invasion of Havre de Grace was "one of the first major attacks at the top of the Bay, which all led to what happened at Fort McHenry in 1814."
Havre de Grace officials have spent three years preparing for the May 3-5 commemoration, which includes a visit from Gov. Martin O'Malley, a performance of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," fireworks and more.
Peters said at least two tall ships, the Pride of Baltimore II and the Schooner Sultana of Chestertown, will be docked at the city's waterfront and open to the public. Organizers are seeking a third tall ship.
The city received about $150,000 in grant funds from the National Park Service and the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority to prepare for the commemoration.
The city's businesses, museums, schools, churches and other institutions have all jumped in to participate. Signs have already been placed along the city's waterfront promenade with details of the events which took place in May of 1813, and an interactive exhibit has been installed at the city's visitor center showing the layout of Havre de Grace in 1813.
"It was kept within our businesses, as much as we could, as far as creating the signage, the graphic arts, the illustrations, the woodworking," Peters said of the grant money.
The celebration will coincide with Havre de Grace's annual Decoy and Wildlife Art Festival.
The Maryland's Chesapeake Campaign, a series of events taking place in communities around the Bay which were affected by the war, will last from this spring to next summer, and kicks off in Havre de Grace and Galena in Kent County.
"This is now getting into the nuts and bolts of what happened during that Chesapeake Campaign," Peters said of the May events in Havre de Grace.
Camay Calloway Murphy, a member of St. John's Episcopal Church, has been working with fellow church members and leaders to uncover the history surrounding the church and its role in the 1813 battle.
She has found portions of sermons from the mid-1800s which will be read during Sunday services on May 5, and a variety of historical exhibits will be available in the church, which dates to 1809.
Murphy said she is even working to bring former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to town during the weekend because of his interest in the African-American experience during the early years of the United States.
"I just love the town and love the friendliness and the openness of the people here, and I think that Havre de Grace is really going to be on the map," she said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun