Historic Ellicott City: From Mill Town to Shopping and Crab Delights

Historic Ellicott City, Maryland, has come a long way since its founding over 230 years ago. It has survived one name change, and several major floods and fires. The National Road (now US 40, authorized in 1806 as the nation’s first federal highway in America) went through Ellicott City, making the city an integral link in the commercial supply line to and from Baltimore Harbor.

During the Civil War, troops and wares from both sides passed through the city. America’s first railroad station is located here. Famous and infamous figures of history have set foot in this central Maryland locale. John Wilkes Booth pursed acting and the New York Yankee Sultan of Swat Babe Ruth once exchanged wedding vows in Ellicott City. Now in the 21st century, Ellicott City is a great weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of weekday life in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., but anyone finding themselves in central Maryland will be in for a treat if they will get off the beaten paths of I-70 or I-95 to explore the historic quarter of the city.

The larger and more urbanized part of Ellicott City, known as “Ellicott City”, is actually the county seat of Howard County, Maryland, with a population of well over fifty thousand; and thus, the locals make a distinction between the terms “Historical Ellicott City”, the term which visitors need to use, and “Ellicott City”, the city as a whole.

The first European visitor to the area was Captain John Smith, who arrived in 1608, sidetracking from his journeys along the Chesapeake Bay. But in 1772, three Quaker brothers from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with the surname of Ellicott established a milling settlement here, calling the new town Ellicott’s Mills. At one time it was the largest flour milling center in the colonies. One of the Ellicott brothers, Andrew, even helped to design Washington, D.C. In 1867, Ellicott’s Mills was renamed Ellicott City. A history of fires and floods in Ellicott City have impacted this area greatly. It’s located on a flood plain in the Patapsco River Valley, of which the Tiber River Branch snakes through.

The great flood of 1868 took thirty-six lives as waters rose five feet during ten minutes of heavy rainfall. In 1972, flood waters reached the second story of buildings as a result of Tropical Storm Agnes. Fires ravaged the Main Street areas in both 1984 and 1999, but the city’s residents keep rebounding back from the myriad of tragedies, and the character of the historical district reflects itself grandly as a result!

Ellicott City’s historic district is known for its array of art venues and antique stores, especially along Main Street, where the faÃ?§ades of buildings reflect the city’s look from its earlier days. For the calligraphy enthusiast, Oh My Word Calligraphy is the place to go, featuring matted and framed hand-lettered calligraphy from over forty American artists. Joan Eve Classics and Collectibles offers vintage furniture, glassware, and even kitchen “kitch” wooden items. A real antique shopper-friendly store is Out of Our Past Antiques, where shoppers can have space to roam around and have easy access to the treasures being sold there. Who’d think of finding Celtic treasures and ongoing Irish musical performances in the front of a photocopy shop? Well, Irish Wonders is such a place, as it’s located in front of the Ellicott City Copy Center. Art and Artisan offers crafted artwork from not only the US, but also from Central America and Europe. It’s a great place for beginning collectors to shop, with more affordable prices than upscale galleries. For pets and their owners alike, the Yuppy Puppy Pet Boutique provides a fashionable, artsy environment for Fido and his owner alike as they seek out the latest toys and fashions for the four-legged set.

Ellicott City is rich in history, and its historical venues offer a great run down of its past. For railroad and WW2 buffs, the B&O Railroad Station Museum is a must see. As the oldest rail station in America, dating back to 1830, it features historic railroad memorabilia, including a restored 1927 caboose that visitors can enter into. The museum contains an exhibit called World War II: The Home Front, which contains artifacts from the war, history of the B&O’s role during this pivotal time in our nation’s history, as well as other facets of life during World War II. The Thomas Isaac Log Cabin/Heritage Orientation Center showcases the history of Ellicott City, and is surrounded by eye-catching plant life that dominates its property. The Firehouse Museum was the first fire station in Ellicott City, dating back to 1889. Now it houses fire fighting memorabilia, and features the history of Ellicott City’s fires.

Take a break from exploring Ellicott City by eating at Cacao Lane. This establishment offers not only fine dining throughout the week, but Sunday brunches that include some great seafood dishes like the Crab and Asparagus Omlette and Greek Pizza with crab topping. Yet it’s their chocolate mousse dessert that can’t be beat, which comes from a homemade family recipe! One of the best wine and beer selections in the city to go with some tasty lunch and dinner entrees can be found at the Tiber River Tavern, whose Cream of Crab Soup is simply irresistible!

Shopping contacts:

Art and Artisan: 8020 Main St. 410-203-9370. www.artandartisan.com.

Irish Wonders: 8321 Main St., in the front of the Ellicott City Copy Center. 410-465-5265.

Joan Eve Classics and Collectibles: 8018 Main St. 410-750-1210. www.joaneve.com.

Oh My Word Calligraphy: 8191 Main St. 410-461-3236. 800-818-0190. www.ohmywordcalligraphy.com.

Out of Our Past Antiques: 8111 Main St. 410-480-2970. Email: ooop6@msn.com.

The Yuppy Puppy Pet Boutique: 8120 Main St.. 410-750-9663. http://www.theyuppypuppypetboutique.com.

Museum contacts:

Ellicott City B&O Railroad Station Museum: 2711 Maryland Ave. 410-461-1944. Admission charge. www.ecbo.org.

Firehouse Museum: 3829 Church Road. 410-465-0232 or 410-313-2690. Free.

Thomas Isaac Log Cabin/Heritage Orientation Center: Located on the same grounds at 8398 Main St. 410-313-1413. Free. http://thomasisaaclogcabin.net.

Restaurant contacts:

Cacao Lane: 8066 Main St. 410-461-1378. www.cacaolane.net.

Tiber River Tavern: 3733 Old Columbia Pike. 410-750-2002. www.tiberrivertavern.com.


The historic district of Ellicott City is basically a great day-trip venue and doesn’t offer any notable accommodations. It’s best for travelers to check sites like www.travelocity.com, www.tripadvisor.com, or www.hotels.com for lodging options in the modern, urbanized Ellicott City area that surrounds the historic district as well as the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas.

Getting to:

The closest major airport to Ellicott City is Baltimore International Airport, which is just over ten miles away. For driving directions and map references from the BWI area to Main Street in Historic Ellicott City, visit this link:

From Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.(44 miles south), here’s a map reference and directions.

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