Quaker brothers Joseph, Andrew & John Ellicott bought land alongside the swift flowing Patapsco River in 1771. The Ellicotts cleared the land, grew wheat and they built a flour mill to grind the wheat. The town that grew around the mill became known as Ellicott Mills and by the end of the Revolutionary War the Ellicotts were exporting flour via Baltimore. In 1830, Ellicott's Mills became the first terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad outside of Baltimore and the station that was built still stands, the oldest surviving railroad station in the USA. The town grew into one of the largest milling and manufacturing towns on the east coast. In 1867, Ellicott Mills secured a city charter and changed its name to Ellicott City. It was he only chartered city in the county but it lost in 1935 following a revolt by residents against increased taxes. Decline followed, leaving Ellicott City with a wealth of historic buildings and it designated a historic district by Howard County in 1973.
B&O Railroad Museum
Although the rail line through Ellicott City remains in use for freight traffic, the station is now a museum. This building was was the original terminus of the first 21 kilometres (13 miles) of commercial railroad in the USA running from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills. The main Depot building was constructed between 1830 and 1831 while the freight house was added in 1885. Passenger service ended soon after World war II and the buildings are now part of the B&O Railroad Museum whose main museum is in Baltimore. Apart from the historic buildings, the Ellicott City museum has a 1927 Caboose and HO-gauge model train layout showing the layout of the original track from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills. We visited in September 2012 just a month after the former station had been the site of a terrible railroad accident. A coal train derailed while passing through Ellicott City dumping huge amounts of coal. Two 19 year old girls sitting on the bridge over Main Street were killed by the coal. Click Tab 2 to see the Ladies Waiting Room.
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Heritage Orientation Center & Thomas Isaac Log Cabin
The first port of call for visitors should be two buildings at the intersection of Main Street and Ellicott Mills Drive. The small stone building on the left, was Ellicott City's first Courthouse. It is now used as a Heritage Orientation Center where photographs and other displays document the history of Ellicott City. The house on the right was built as a settler’s home in Ellicotts Mills around 1780. It is now known as the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin after its late 19th century owner. The cabin was moved to its current location in the late 20th Century. In the log cabin, historians and artisans in period costume are available to explain the settlement and development of the region and its artisans..
Not a modern building in sight. If only the cars, signs and road markings could be removed, then Ellicott City appears timeless.
Emory United Methodist Church
Further up the road that runs past the Firehouse Museum and well clear of any flood risk is Emory United Methodist Church, which was founded in 1837. the church building was completed in 1841 and named after the late Bishop John Emory. The church is still in active use for worship.
Many towns and cities have firehouse museums, but the one in Ellicott City looks very different from most. Sadly it was not open when we visited, so we were only able to view its unusual exterior. It was built by volunteers in 1889 to house hand drawn fire fighting equipment and later horse drawn equipment. From 1906 it was also used as a municipal office and meeting hall. It proved too small when motorised equipment was introduced and closed as a firehouse in 1924. The building continued to be used for municipal purposes until 1935. It was later used as a library reading room before being restored and turned into a museum. The Firehouse Museum is open in season Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
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Flood level markers under railway bridge
Ellicott City is very prone to flooding with 15 major floods between 1817 and 2016. The level of the 1868 flood is marked by the white plaque at the top of the bridge. That flood washed away 14 houses and three mills, killing around 40 people. The flood reached 6.5 metres (21.5 feet) above the level of Main Street. The next marker down is for the flood caused in 1972 by Hurricane Agnes which reached a height of 4.4 metres (14.5 feet). The historic Jonathan Ellicott home was destroyed. This photograph was taken before the 2016 flood which was the result of a severe thunderstorm dropping 150mm (6 inches) of rain on Ellicott City in two hours.