Havre de Grace named a best small town to visit by Smithsonian Magazine

It what could be truly considered a tourism manager's dream, Havre de Grace has made Smithsonian Magazine's list of "The Best 20 Small Towns to Visit in 2014."

The April edition of Smithsonian places Havre de Grace at No. 12 on the list, just behind Spring Green, Wisc., and just ahead of Columbia, Pa. The complete list can be viewed online at http://www.smithsonianmag.com.

Brigitte Peters, manager of the city's Office of Marketing and Tourism, calls the selection "exciting," one that she says should benefit the entire state of Maryland, other towns and counties, as well as Havre de Grace and Harford County.

"Three and a half weeks ago, I got a call from someone at Smithsonian asking for some information about Havre de Grace for their top 20 towns to visit," Peters said Saturday. "I sent some suggested photos and a write-up. I came back from Florida after being away, and we were number 12 out of the whole country. It is really exciting."

Peters said she didn't campaign to get on the list.

"The only thing I did was send a three-page document about the town," she explained. "We had already been picked for the list when they called. I just didn't know where."

The selection is already paying dividends, Peters said. She was slated to do a Skype interview with a Baltimore network television affiliate and has been contacted by a Pennsylvania-based writer who wants to visit.

The selection by a magazine that Peters noted is read both nationally and internationally, should expose the city to a wider audience. "It puts us on the map and it's something we want to take advantage of," she said.

"Anything that gets press like this in a national magazine and then social media picks it up and it really opens the window," Peters continued. "Now it has opened so many doors and highlighted Havre de Grace in such a positive way."

Chautauqua, N.Y., a town by the lake of the same name that bred an educational and cultural revolution in late 19th century America, is ranked first on this year's small towns to visit list. Heraldsburg, Calif., was No. 2 and Williamsburg, Va., No. 3.

This is the third year the magazine has published such rankings, and there have been no repeats. Gettysburg, Pa., topped the 2013 list and Great Barrington, Mass., in 2012.

Havre de Grace also has the distinction of being the only Maryland town named among the 60 selected over three years, something Peters said she was not aware of.

"Mornings in Havre de Grace (pronounced: Have-ruh duh Grayce) should be spent meandering along the town's boardwalk, which runs from Tydings Park to the Concord Point Lighthouse," according to the description on the Smithsonian Magazine website. "Where the Susquehanna River joins into the Chesapeake Bay at Concord Point, visitors can see beautiful sunrises (if they arrive early enough). The lighthouse is the oldest in Maryland, built in 1827. Visitors can climb the lighthouse and explore the grounds, which include the keeper's house. Nearby, the Maritime Museum and the Decoy Museum explore Havre de Grace's maritime history. The Maritime Museum has permanent exhibits that take visitors back in time 400 years, to pre-colonial American life."

The write-up also highlights shopping opportunities and the city's North Park trail – Joe K's Loop Trail to the locals - and the park's "Susquehanna Lockhouse museum, which features a War of 1812 battle re-enactment every year."

Accompanying Havre de Grace's write-up are photos of the lighthouse and a nighttime shot of the annual Fourth of July Week carnival in Tydings Park that was taken from the adjacent city marina. Those were supplied by Peters' office.

Peters said the article's phonetic pronunciation of the city's unique name was not her doing.

"That was Smithsonian's," she said.

"I look at this as a win for the entire state of Maryland," Peters said. "Anyone coming to Havre de Grace will have to pass through other municipalities, so this really highlights Maryland in a positive way. It's a wonderful opportunity for the entire state to embrace."

According to the Alliance for Audited Media, Smithsonian's total paid circulation for the period ended Dec. 31, 2013, is 2.1 million.

"...for this, our third annual search-and-enjoy mission, we've singled out communities for particular strengths in history, music, visual arts, learning, food, theater and science," the introduction to this year's list explains. "We worked with the geographical information systems company Esri, which analyzed tons of data to find towns or cities of fewer than 15,000 residents where cultural opportunities abound, at least on a per capita basis."

Havre de Grace was also featured recently on fairfaxtimes.com.

The article, carrying the headline: "The Charms of the Chesapeake Bay in Havre de Grace," mentions a "fun fact" that the city name was the title of an episode for the fourth season of "Boardwalk Empire" (though also incorrectly stating some filming took place there – it did not) and as the stand-in for Congressman Frank Underwood's (Kevin Spacey) hometown of Gaffney, S.C., in the first season of "House of Cards."

Peters said the city's relationship with movie and television filming pays dividends on its own, but in different ways, as the two most recent examples suggest.

"If you think of all the films where Havre de Grace has been used as someplace else – like in 'House of Cards' – there's an instant impact from the economic value of having the crews and production companies here and spending money," she said.

In the case of the "Boardwalk Empire" episode, which Peters said was filmed in upstate New York., in a riverfront setting to portray Havre de Grace, the name recognition provides long-term value, not to mention the curiosity factor.

"So much is said and talked about Havre de Grace" from "Boardwalk Empire," she said, "it's given us more exposure than any other film done here."

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