Issue: March 2005
House of Secrets

The Currier House B&B in Havre de Grace, Md., harbors centuries of local history. Who knew?

 

     Innkeeper Jane Currier knew that her family’s home in Havre de Grace, built in 1790, had stood the test of time, which is why she decided to preserve it as a B&B rather than sell it after her mother passed away. She has decorated it with family heirlooms and photographs that document the history of the area as much as they document a family of farmers, watermen and hunters-not the least of whom was her uncle Jim Currier, a carver whose decoys are on display at the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum. Scores of his wooden duck bodies, unpainted, fill an inset cabinet in Jane Currier’s dining room.

     But she had no idea that the house, just up the street from the Concord Point Lighthouse, had also been a way station on the Underground Railroad.  “My family certainly never talked about it,” she says, her eyes alive with interest. “My mother left three filing cabinets in the basement, chock-full of old documents and the history of the house, but there’s no mention in any of that about escaping slaves.” She knew nothing about this aspect of her family homestead until a man named Matthew Johnson came knocking on her door one day.

     Johnson, who passed away a year ago, was documenting the path of the Underground Railroad through Harford and Cecil counties, and, according to the escapees’ own narratives, he said, Currier’s house was a “safe house,” where fugitives hid until they could be safely ferried across the Susquehanna River.

     “That would explain the secret passage I found,” Currier says.

     Although she has declined to tear out walls to investigate, she did discover an odd passage that seems to lead from the basement to the attic of her home. “I thought maybe it was a laundry chute of some kind, or a dumbwaiter, although why it was where it was [in the original 1790 section of the house] didn’t make sense.” Now she thinks it was a way to smuggle escaping slaves, unseen, between the walls to the safety of the attic.

     Currier’s great-grandfather, Matthew Currier, bought the original house in 1861, after he had lost his farm in Cecil County (north of the Susquehanna) and moved to Havre de Grace, where he operated the ferry. Whether his family helped shelter runaway slaves, or his predecessor had-or both-is unclear. Certainly a ferryboat operator would have been a key link in helping runaways cross the Susquehanna, heading for the relative freedom of Pennsylvania. It can hardly be a coincidence that a block away from the Currier House, a street called Freedom Lane runs straight to the old ferry landing. On the other hand, the War Between the States had already begun when the Curriers moved in; perhaps by then the house had already served its purpose and its “agents” had moved on.

     Whatever the case, the house remains a refuge for travelers passing through Havre de Grace, either by boat or car. Significantly expanded in 1882 and modernized in the 1900s, it lies a short walk away from the launch ramp and transient slips at the Havre de Grace City Yacht Basin at Tydings Memorial Park (410-939-0015). Tidewater Marina (410-939-0950; 800-960-8433) is a few blocks away in the other direction. The Maritime Museum and Decoy Museum are nearby, as is the Havre de Grace waterfront promenade. Although the building sits well back from the water (“There was nothing in front of the house but wetlands swamp when I was a kid,” Currier says), the upstairs balconies offer a sweeping view of the Susquehanna Flats. The rooms are bright and cozy, all with private baths (one bath is actually across the hall from the room it serves): $95–$135; no smoking inside, no pets. 410-939-7886; 800-827-2889; www.currier-bb.com.