Have you ever wondered how Clarksville got its name? A recent presentation at the Clarksville Commons provided a sweeping account of the history of the Clark Family and how they shaped our community. Shawn Gladden, executive director of the Howard County Historical Society, shared the story of Clarksville’s founding family in front of a packed audience.
“The Clark family, of Anne Arundel and Howard counties, represents the epitome of the American immigrant family in colonial America, and essentially the American story itself,” said Gladden.
The Clarks’ story began with three immigrant brothers James, John and David from Belfast, Ireland, who came to the United States in 1797 by signing an indenture to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the wealthiest and most successful landowner in the area. . Today, thousands of Clark descendants have spread throughout the country. According to Gladden, “A thriving community named after the family has given so much back to the county that their ancestors worked and inhabited generations ago.”
Brothers James, John and David Clark emigrated from Belfast, Ireland, by signing an indenture to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the wealthiest and most successful landowner in the area. The brothers’ indenture contract was for 30 years to work on a lot of approximately 150 acres. According to the contract, the Clarks were responsible for building and repairing structures and producing bushels of wheat for the Carrolls. At the end of contract, which was extended for 20 years, the land would be returned to the Carrolls. Upon completion in 1847, the Clark descendants were ready to become landowners themselves.
James Clark left Maryland and headed west. His fate is unknown.
“David and John’s descendents would be numerous and through marriage would mix with notable names like the Ellicotts, Hopkins, Owings, Tysons, Warfields, Dorseys, Ridgelys, Howards, Branches and Linthicums. They would become landowners, farmers, lawyers, politicians and the foundation for the Clarksville community,” Gladden said.
Clarksville is named for David’s oldest son, James Clark. Born in 1800, James became the first postmaster of Clarksville, when a postal stop was opened there in 1851. Although he gave his name to the town, many of his relatives also led distinguished lives.
James’ youngest brother, Thaddeus Sobieski Clark, was elected a Maryland state senator for Howard County. When he ran for re-election in 1856, he defeated John Lee Carroll, the great–great grandson of Charles Carroll and a future governor of Maryland.
In 1845, John’s son, James Clark of the Wheatfield farm, established the first Clark’s Farm Supplies store on Main Street in Ellicott City. The store evolved with the times, changing ownership, names, products and locations many times over the years. The business is still around today in the form of Clark’s Hardware on Route 40, where it has thrived for nearly three decades. It remains in the family under the ownership of Margaret E. Clark.
Other notable members of the Clark family included James A. Clark Sr. who was a Fifth Circuit Court judge and who served a term as Maryland state's attorney. He was married to Alda Tyson Hopkins, a descendant of the Ellicott and Hopkins families. They owned Elioak Farm.
Their son James Clark Jr. served as a Maryland state senator from 1974 to 1986. During his tenure, he served as president of the senate and championed issues such as civil rights, open space and farm land preservation and pension funding. Upon his retirement, he returned to run Elioak Farm.
Today the seventhgeneration family farm raises produce and meat while also operating as a petting zoo. It is owned and operated by James Jr.’s daughter Martha Clark and granddaughter Nora Crist, sixth- and seventh-generation members of the Clark family.
Today, thousands of Clark descendants have spread throughout the country. According to Gladden, “A thriving community named after the family has given so much back to the county that their ancestors worked and inhabited generations ago.”