Just off I-95, 25 miles north of the hustle and bustle of Baltimore, is Harford County. Here you can take in the scenic pastures of sprawling horse farms, enjoy the sweet taste of Maryland blue crab and explore the quaint shops along the waterfront, burn some calories on a local hiking trail, or just sit back and relax with a glass of wine produced by Fiore Winery, one of several local vineyards.
Greg Pizzuto, executive director of Visit Harford!, expounded on the myriad of options proving there’s something for everyone in the three municipalities that comprise the county. “Belair is the county seat, Aberdeen is where Aberdeen Proving Grounds resides, and Havre de Grace is a historic town on the Chesapeake Bay,” said Pizzuto. “We have Ladew Topiary Gardens, which is one of the top five gardens in the country. We have wonderful parks, including six state parks, hiking trails, the Conowingo Dam, historic sites such as Lafayette Trail and lots of water activities.”
Pizzuto also said sporting events are another reason people come to Harford County. Cedar Lane Regional Park in Belair is a premier 110-acre multisport recreational complex used by both local and regional teams for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and football. Aberdeen is home base to the IronBirds minor league baseball organization, named in honor of hometown legend Cal Ripken’s “Ironman” streak and the team’s affiliation with the Baltimore Orioles. It is also the location of Ripken Baseball.
Both Cal and his brother Billy both played baseball for Aberdeen High School before being drafted by the Orioles, so there was no question where Ripken Baseball should call home, said senior vice president Glenn Valis. “While Baltimore is where the Ripkens played ball, Aberdeen is where they call home. Whether it’s our local fans coming to cheer on the IronBirds at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium or youth baseball players traveling from all around the globe to compete at The Ripken Experience Aberdeen Powered by Under Armour complex, we want to provide every individual and family with the best big league experience possible. Our location in Harford County allows us to do just that, giving our visitors and fans the coziness of a small town setting, while offering easy access to Baltimore city life. ”
For the outdoor enthusiast, the diverse geography of the county allows you to explore numerous recreational activities. For example, Rocks State Park offers canoeing, fishing, hiking, and is home to the King and Queen Seat, a natural 190-rock outcrop that was once a ceremonial gathering place of the Susquehannock Indians. From this cliff, hikers can enjoy a panoramic view of the rolling hills and farms of the surrounding countryside.
Gunpowder Falls State Park has over 100 miles of trails, trout streams and beaches. You can even take a step back in time by touring the historic grist mill and shops at the 18th-century village of Jerusalem, located on the banks of Little Gunpowder Falls. On weekends, visitors can observe traditional ironworks techniques at the blacksmith shop, watch wood-workers at the carpentry shop and view artifacts and historical displays at both McCourtney’s General Store and Gift Shop and the visitor center of the park.
Art connoisseurs can find plenty to fuel their passion in Harford County. The Gallery at Liriodendron in Belair is a Palladian mansion designed in 1897 by Baltimore architects Wyatt and Nolting.
The property is owned by Harford County as part of Heavenly Waters Park. In 1981, it opened as a center for local history and cultural arts. Gallery director Dr. MaryJane Blasi described the art scene of Harford County as just as vibrant as the local scenery. She said, “The wind-down of summer has energized en plein air artists to capture the radiant country landscape that is fall in Harford County. Numerous exhibits and casual events pop up, including the Children’s Art Show in Havre de Grace, the Bel Air Arts Festival and the Harford Artists Fall Show, to name a few. Hikers on the MA and PA Trail delight in their discovery of the Liriodendron Mansion and gallery as they come upon the buildings hidden in the midst of the fall foliage.”
For those who fancy the flora of gardens, there is Ladew Topiary Gardens. In the 1920s, Harvey Ladew ventured south from Long Island, N.Y., when he was drawn to Harford County’s beautiful countryside. It was here that he indulged his love of fox hunting and soon after bought a house and property, the former Pleasant Valley Farm, adjacent to the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club. Ladew spokeswoman Julie Gilbert said, “That is now Ladew Gardens—public gardens with over 200 acres featuring 22 acres of delightful gardens including more than 100 larger-than-life topiary forms, a Manor House, Butterfly House, and Nature Walk.” The Ladew Manor House, circa 1747, filled with equestrian and fox-hunting memorabilia, fine art and English antiques, is open daily for tours.
Ladew is a favorite holiday destination as travelers come from near and far to see the historic Manor House decorated for the holiday season by local floral designers and garden clubs. The 2015 Christmas Open House will take place Dec. 11 to 13, when the house will be festooned with decorations to the theme “The Colors of Christmas.”
Gilbert said for the employees, working at Ladew is not just a job. “A number of Ladew’s employees are residents of Harford County, and many come from families that have lived in the area for generations. It’s that kind of place with a mixture of beautiful rolling countrysides, charming small towns and a strong sense of community.”