Photo Essay: The Havre de Grace Decoy Museum

Enjoy our visual tour of the museum
Waterfowl hunting has a long, rich history, which can be traced by the gear used by waterfowlers. As technology changed, waterfowl hunting changed as well. From vintage guns and boats to calls and decoys, one of the largest collections of classic waterfowling gear and one of the best places to learn about waterfowling history is the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum in Havre de Grace, Maryland, one of America's favorite "duck towns." 

The Havre de Grace Decoy Festival Committee held their first gathering on May 14, 1982, with the goal of establishing a museum. The dean of Upper Bay decoy makers, R. Madison Mitchell, served as honorary chairman. Seven years later, he presided over the grand opening of the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum. The town is now known as the "Decoy Capital of the World." Open daily to visitors, the museum currently boasts a membership of nearly 1,000 people.

The Havre de Grace Decoy Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year. This event have been visited by tens of thousands of decoy collectors and waterfowling enthusiasts over the years, including U.S. presidents, state governors, business leaders, hunting enthusiasts, art lovers, history buffs, tourists, and more. 

Each exhibit documents a part of waterfowling history that many visitors may have never seen or heard of before. Major displays showcase vintage and contemporary decoys, their makers, and how these "counterfeit waterfowl" were made. A superb collection of other early paraphernalia such as a sinkbox, sneak boat, punt guns, and battery guns are also displayed. Included are 4-, 6- and 8-gauge shotguns outlawed decades ago.  

Visitors entering the museum are greeted by a historic decoy rig from the early 1900s. Roughly 200 wooden decoys are displayed in a layout boat, as they would have been transported at that time. The rig was assembled and used by Frank "Homerun" Baker from Trappe, Maryland. Frank played on the New York Yankees with fellow Hall of Famer Babe Ruth (who was also an avid duck hunter). The museum will soon publish a book on Baker and his decoys.

Next is an elaborate display of decoy-making equipment once used by master carvers. Audio-visual stations explain the decoy-making process step by step, offering a firsthand look at the fine craftsmanship that went into each decoy. A wood walkway provides an overview of vintage equipment used by waterfowlers of that era.  

The second floor of the museum showcases hundreds of decoys by Chesapeake Bay-area carvers. The works of every major decoy carver—both past and present—are on display, as well as the complete collections of many of the most renowned.  

Legendary figures such as Mitchell, Charles Bryan, and Paul Gibson have been honored with life-size wax likenesses.

Also housed on the second floor is an extensive library of decoy-related books and documents, which are available to members for perusal and research purposes. 

Returning to the ground floor, the museum's gift shop provides an opportunity to pick up a souvenir or a decoy produced by one of many local craftsmen. 

Finally, before leaving the grounds, you won't want to miss the R. Madison Mitchell Decoy Shop. This is the original building where Mitchell made his now-famous decoys. The building was relocated to the museum site and is preserved in its original condition. 

0 The 30th Annual Havre de Grace Decoy Festival will be held on May 6-8, 2011. The format and venue have been enhanced to include not only decoys and wildfowl art but also waterfowl hunting and conservation exhibits. For more information, please call 410-939-3739 or visit the museum's website at Of course, visitors are always welcome to stop by the museum. 

Bob Bendler
Contributor, Jim Dodd