Sykesville: From 'Horse Train Stop' to 'Coolest Small Town'
Jun 21, 2017 at 11:30 AM
Sykesville is located on Carroll County's southern border with Howard County along the Patapsco River. A portion of the town once spanned the river, but a devastating flood in July 1868 destroyed the Howard County side of the town, which unincorporated on April 17, 1931.
The beginnings of the Horse Train Stop, as it was first called — the area we now know as Sykesville — trace back to the days when William Patterson, a wealthy Baltimore shipbuilder, made a 3,000-acre tract of land, called Springfield Estate, his country home.
In 1803, Sykesville was involved in an international kerfuffle when Patterson's daughter, Betsy, married Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon. However, Napoleon declared the marriage illegal a year later and ordered Jerome to return to France, which he did, with his new wife by his side. When Napoleon refused to let her land, Betsy returned to her father at Springfield, and in 1815, Maryland granted her a divorce.
In 1825, William's son George Patterson sold 1,000 acres of the Springfield Estate to a business associate, James Sykes of Baltimore, for whom Sykesville takes its name.
After the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was built through the town in 1831, the town grew rapidly as a center of commerce. On June 20, 1831, the railroad workers went on strike and what followed, "The Sykes Mill Railroad Riot of 1831," was one of the most violent of the early railroad years.
In June 1863, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate cavalry roared through town, burned bridges, destroyed the railroad tracks, and created mayhem and destruction on its way to Gettysburg.
The Springfield Estate was passed on to Frank Brown when George Patterson died. It was while Brown was in office — to this day, he is the only politician from Carroll County to have served as Maryland's governor — that Springfield State Hospital was established in 1896. At the time the hospital was the largest mental hospital on the East Coast.
The town was incorporated in 1904. On July 30, 1923, another flood damaged the town so badly that the county commissioners had to raise county taxes 10 cents the following year to help repair the damage.
The fire department was established Dec. 14, 1933, after a series of devastating fires in the town. Until 1957 the ambulance service in town was provided by the local funeral home. In 1969, the firehouse burned to the ground.
Through it all, town has always prospered in the face of adversity. In an April 22, 1998, newspaper article, former Mayor Jonathan Herman called it a "Norman Rockwell painting." Obviously, many agree. In June 2016, Sykesville was named the "Coolest Small Town in America" by Budget Travel magazine in a nationwide competition against 140 rivals.