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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Hartford County, Md. carves its niche

All photos courtesy Harford Co. Office of Economic Dev.

Where is Harford County, Md.?
Harford County is in northeastern Maryland, 50 miles south of Philadelphia, 60 miles north of Washington and 25 miles north of Baltimore. It is a growing region thanks in part to the transformation of the Aberdeen Proving Ground, part of Base Realignment and Closure. The county is home to about 250,000 people.

How do I get there?
Because Harford County is on the I-95 corridor, it is easy to get there from Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. The closest airports are Baltimore’s BWI Thurgood Marshall and Philadelphia International Airport. MARC trains and Amtrak provide commuter rail service.

What types of meetings best suit Harford County?
Meetings of 30 to 600 best fit the area’s meeting facilities.

Did you know?

  • If not for House Speaker Elias Boudinot, the Harford County town of Havre de Grace might have been the U.S. capital. Boudinot broke a tie, voting for what is now Washington.
  • Harford County was home to the Booth family of Shakespearean actors, including John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin. Booth grew up in Bel Air at Tudor Hall, which can be toured by appointment.
  • Havre de Grace’s location at the top of the Chesapeake Bay amazed Capt. John Smith more than 400 years ago. He wrote in his journal, “Heaven and earth seemed never to have agreed better to frame a place for a man’s commodious and delightful habitation.”
  • Historic Liriodendron Mansion in Bel Air was summer home to a founder of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Howard Kelly, and is now available for meetings and receptions.

What’s new?
Several limited-service hotels opened in 2009, among them the Homewood Suites and Candlewood Suites in the Bel Air/Belcamp area and a Hilton Garden Inn in Aberdeen. Opening soon in the Edgewood/Bel Air area is a Hampton Inn and Suites.

Tell me about some sites worth seeing.

  •  Ladew Topiary Gardens is known around the world for its topiary and flower gardens. Harvey Ladew created 15 thematic garden rooms on 22 acres of his 250-acre Maryland property. Fox hunting memorabilia and antiques fill the 1747 Manor House; there’s also a cafe for lunch or snacks.
  • The historic waterfront town of Havre de Grace is an authentic Chesapeake Bay experience with its mix of restaurants, bed-and-breakfast inns, boutiques and antique shops.
  • The county seat, Bel Air, bustles. Downtown Bel Air is known for its cordial pubs and charming boutiques. It’s a good choice for a night out.

Tell me about your main meeting venues?

  • With an outdoor pavilion, a historic gazebo and recently remodeled dining and meeting rooms, the Vandiver Inn in Havre de Grace has become a popular for corporate retreats.
  • Two museums in Havre de Grace are tributes to the region’s ties to the Chesapeake Bay, and each welcomes off-site events and meetings.
  • At the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, many guides are carvers, hunters, longtime residents and even founders of the museum who are proud to tell you more about their town and its ties to waterfowl hunting. Nearby, the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum preserves and interprets the maritime skills and heritage of the Lower Susquehanna River and Upper Chesapeake Bay. For up-close looks at the bay and its impact, groups can board the Lantern Queen Riverboat or the Skipjack Martha Lewis.
  • In 2008, Harford County opened a 110-acre multi-sport recreation facility, Cedar Lane Sports Complex. Ripken Stadium, host to the Aberdeen Ironbirds, a Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, bears the family name of Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, who grew up in Aberdeen. Ripken Stadium has an on-site caterer and meeting facilities. In addition, the 120-room Courtyard Marriott and Residence Inn at Ripken Stadium has three meeting rooms.
  • Aberdeen is also home to the Ripken Baseball Academy, developed by Ripken and his brother, Bill, for youth baseball training and tournaments. The complex consists of a youth-size version of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, known as Cal Senior’s Yard, and youth-size replicas of Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Memorial Stadium.
  • Stop in for a tasting or plan an evening banquet at Fiore Winery, owned by Italian wine maker Mike Fiore, who has been in business in northern Harford County for almost 25 years. Mount Felix Winery, with views of the Chesapeake Bay, and Fiore are part of the Piedmont Wine Trail.
  • Harford County is home to six public golf courses. Bulle Rock was home to the LPGA and was ranked in the top 10 public courses by Golf World in 2008. It was further recognized as No. 1 for reputation and prestige in Best of the Best by Golf World.

Tell me about some offbeat spots for off-site events.
More than 100 outdoor events are held each year at Swan Harbor Farm in Havre de Grace. Its farmhouse, gardens and tents and a gazebo that overlooks the Chesapeake Bay are part of what makes this 531-acre farm, with a history back to the 1700s, so popular.

For a true taste of Harford County …

  • There’s more than a bit of the Irish in Bel Air, where Looney’s Pub, Magerk’s and Sean Bolan’s offer Irish and American fare, as well as nighttime entertainment. Given the nearby Chesapeake Bay, seafood is a staple in Harford County, and Havre de Grace, at the top of the bay, has several good choices, including the Laurrapin Grille, MacGregor’s and the Tidewater Grill. In Aberdeen, Mamie’s Cafe is the place for home-style cooking.
  • If a sports bar is what you seek, head for the Greene Turtle. For true Italian, try Liberatore’s in Bel Air, known for homemade lasagna, lobster tetrazzini and veal saltimbocca. After dinner, retire to the restaurant’s lounge for local live music.

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