Susquehanna State Park History

The Susquehanna River, named for the Susquehannock Indian tribe, is the Chesapeake Bay’s main tributary river. Stretching from Upstate New York to Havre de Grace, the Susquehanna’s massive watershed provides nearly half of the Bay’s freshwater. Therefore, the river heavily influences the health of ecosystems in both the river valley and in the Chesapeake Bay.

For thousands of years, Indians depended upon the river for food and transportation, and built thriving communities and farms along its shores. Their legacy lives on in some of the valley’s place names, such as “Susquehanna” and “Conowingo,” and in the petroglyphs they carved into the river’s rocks. Examples of these carvings can be seen at the Rock Run Gristmill.

Captain John Smith noted in 1608, that "heaven and earth seemed never to have agreed better to frame a place for man's commodious and delightful habitation." Soon afterward, Europeans began establishing settlements in the Susquehanna valley. Edward Palmer, an English adventurer, set-up a fur-trading post on an island (later called Garrett Island) at the Susquehanna's mouth in 1622. In 1658, early Marylanders founded the settlement which became today's City of Havre de Grace.

Other settlements grew up along the Susquehanna’s banks and tributaries. Natural resources such as timber, coal and farm produce were harvested and shipped to markets such as Baltimore and Philadelphia. Water-powered mills were built along the valley, bridges were built to join the east bank of the river to the west, and canals (and later railroads and highways) were built along the banks. Major cities such as Harrisburg, Pa. and Binghamton, NY were established along the river. The Susquehanna River Valley grew into a prosperous and important center of commerce and industry.

In the mid-20th century, efforts to better conserve the Susquehanna’s ecosystem began to surface. In 1958, J. Gilman D’Arcy Paul, former president of the Baltimore Museum of Art, donated 300 acres to the State of Maryland to create a public park. This donation laid the foundation for Susquehanna State Park. Since then, the park has grown to 2,753 acres. In addition to being a popular destination for hikers, sightseers and anglers, it plays a key role in conserving the Susquehanna Valley’s ecosystem and preserving its heritage.

Rock Run Historic Area

RockRunGristmill.JPGSeveral historic buildings at Susquehanna State Park have been restored and are open to the public.

The Rock Run Gristmill, erected in 1798 by the notable and prosperous businessman and landowner John Stump, is a former merchant flourmill. During its most prosperous years, it ground flour for both the local and international markets. The three-story stone structure was partially restored in the 1960s. It features a working waterwheel and an operational millstone. Corn-grinding demonstrations are held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on summer weekends.

Between the mill and the river runs a section of the former Susquehanna & Tidewater Canal. Opened in 1836, the canal linked Havre de Grace with Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. With mule drawn barges plying its waters, the Susquehanna & Tidewater was a major commercial waterway. It closed in 1894. Two canal locks (one at Lapidum and the other at the mouth of Deer Creek) are located within the park. A temporary railroad line was laid on the towpath in the 1920s. Much of the old towpath is now a hiking trail.

Upriver from the mill is a little white frame building known as the Jersey Toll House. The toll house once served a covered bridge that spanned the Susquehanna at this point from 1817 to 1857. It connected Rock Run with Port Deposit (directly across the river). Several abandoned bridge piers are still visible in the river.

On the hill which overlooks the mill stands Carter-Archer Mansion, a majestic 14-room stone structure built in 1804 by John Carter, a partner of John Stump in the Rock Run Mill. When Carter died a year later the house passed to the Stumps' daughter Ann and her husband, Dr. John Archer, Jr. One of the Archer's children was James J. Archer, a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. Several rooms are restored and furnished with period antiques. Associated with the mansion are a large stone barn and a stone springhouse. The springhouse water still runs clear and cold.

At the lower end of the park is the community of Lapidum. This settlement traces its history to 1683 with the granting of land patents for the tracts "Paradise," "Elberton" and "Vincent's Castle." As the surrounding land was transformed from wilderness to farmland, Lapidum grew in importance as a commercial center. Corn and tobacco grew along the river bank at Lapidum and a bustling fishing industry developed here.

Directions to the Rock Run Historic Area

Susquehanna State Park is located three miles northwest of Havre de Grace off Route 155 in Harford County. The park is approximately 35 miles north of Baltimore. Take I-95 north or south to Route 155, exit 89. Proceed west on Route 155 to Route 161. Turn right on Route 161 and then right on Rock Run Road. Follow Rock Run Road to the park. Follow Rock Run Road to the end where it intersects with Stafford Road. Parking is available next to the mill or behind the Carter-Archer mansion. A public restroom (open year-round) is located in the carriage barn. There is fee to visit the historic area.

Steppingstone Museum

Another attraction to see while you are in the area is Steppingstone Museum. Located within Susquehanna State Park, the Museum is a private, not for profit museum which preserves and demonstrates the rural arts and crafts of the 1880-1920 period. For more information about Steppingstone, please visit their website at or call 410-939-2299.

Directions to Steppingstone Museum

Steppingstone Museum is located inside Susquehanna State Park near Havre de Grace, Maryland. To get to the museum: Leave I-95 at Exit 89 (Havre de Grace) onto Route 155 north toward Bel Air. After one quarter mile, turn right onto Earlton Road and follow for one half mile. Turn left onto Quaker Bottom Road and follow to the museum entrance, about one mile.​