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Maryland's National Register Properties

Photo credit: Don Cook, 01/2003
Ellicott City Historic District
Inventory No.: HO-78
Date Listed: 7/31/1978
Location: Ellicott City, Howard County
Category: District
Period/Date of Construction: 1772-1950
Description: When the Ellicott brothers purchased the site for their mill along the Patapsco River in 1772, they had to literally hack their way through the wilderness. The first building constructed by the Ellicotts was a log hut to house men and supplies. Within a few years they had built their mill, a store, and houses for themselves and their workers in the vicinity of the river which supplied the mill's power. Gradually as the town grew toward the East along Main Street, it was limited not by the river banks, but by the great outcroppings of native granite which abound in the area. Ellicott City's hilly terrain, the granite, and the river limited the city's expansion as it does today. Streets rise steeply from the riverfront, winding around great mounds of granite to finally attain the more open residential sites above the town. In 1868 Ellicott City suffered its first major flood and in addition to many of the buildings along the Patapsco, many of the mills between Sykesville and Ellicott City were destroyed. After this tragedy, commerce began to shift to Baltimore City. Just as the terrain determined where buildings were built, the culture of the early settlers determined how they were built. The Ellicotts and many of the workers they brought with them to settle the land were Quakers from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They were plain people in taste as well as religion. Using local materials, wood, cut granite, and rubble stone, they built structures which reflected their humble origins. Later, in the mid 19th century, one finds a few attempts at aggrandizement in the Greek Revival buildings, but even these are restrained and unadorned. A few examples of Victorian architecture can be found along Main Street and a few of the early mill buildings have been Victorianized. Ellicott City has approximately seven buildings in the 1700-1800 period; 110 buildings in the 1800-1850 period; 80 buildings in the 1850-1900 period; 60 buildings in the 1900-1950 period, and 12 buildings in the 1950-present period. The almost 200 buildings constructed before 1900 are for the most part viable working buildings still serving a useful function in the community. Significance: Ellicott City is an extremely well preserved 19th century mill town whose sturdy architecture has remained intact and unaltered. The town thrived as a residence for workers from the textile factories (now extinct) along the Patapsco River, an important depot on the metropolitan branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, a stopping point along the Old National Road (which passed through the town on Main Street), and as the county seat of Howard County. The industrial and transportation associations declined in importance with the advent of the 20th century. However, the physical environment remained unchanged. The dramatic topography of the town which drops steeply to the Patapsco sets Ellicott City apart from its environment. The sloping streets and the predominance of granite make it reminiscent of an English industrial town. Ellicott City was never a grand town as was late-18th century Annapolis. The majority of its architecture consists of solidly built structures which lack the details and forms required for easy classification into architectural styles such as Federal or Greek Revival. Ellicott City's architectural fabric derives from a broad vernacular interpretation of national styles. Ellicott City also derives significance from its association with the Ellicott family. In 1772, three Quaker brothers, Joseph, John, and Andrew Ellicott, bought 700 acres of land along the Patapsco River at the present site of Ellicott City. The Ellicott brothers possessed an unusual talent for success in any field. The Bucks County, Pennsylvania, family profited from the decline of the tobacco trade, and the increase in wheat production. They established grist mills powered by the Patapsco and arranged transshipment and export of wheat through the construction of roads and bridges, as well as a wharf in Baltimore Harbor. The Ellicotts were credited with the invention of the wagon brake and for the introduction of plaster of paris as a fertilizer. As builders, they financed schools, a Quaker meeting, stores, and a series of granite houses in Baltimore County. As industrialists, they operated an iron works and rolling mill.
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