A day to remember — or find out about — the lost town of Daniels
By By Janene Holzberg and For The Baltimore Sun
Oct 25, 2012 | 7:40 PM
"Gone, but not forgotten" is the nostalgic slogan adopted by organizers of Discover Daniels Day, a one-time event Saturday that will mark 40 years since the last remnants of the town of Daniels were demolished by Tropical Storm Agnes.
Haven't heard of Daniels? You're not alone.
The picturesque and bustling mill town, with manufacturing roots dating to the early 19th century, was located four miles north of Ellicott City at a bend in the Patapsco River and straddled the northeastern Howard County border into Baltimore County.
A self-contained village that included 118 homes for mill workers, it grew over the years to include a school for grades one to seven, as well as a general store, post office, library, restaurant, bowling alley and four churches.
Those who cherish their memories of Daniels are throwing a shindig to introduce their beloved town to those who may not be aware it existed.
"It's amazing that there's so little [of Daniels] left, yet so many people who care about it continue to take part" in regular festivities there, including Fourth of July concerts and annual reunions, said Lisa Wingate, a preservationist who chairs the event.
"We're celebrating a town that really isn't a town anymore," she said.
The daylong celebration will encourage visitors to get acquainted with the history of the lost town. First called Elysville in 1829, it was renamed Alberton when the James S. Gary Co. took over in 1854.
The name was changed to Daniels when the cotton duck mill and surrounding 550-acre village — population 800 — were auctioned in 1940 for $65,000 to C.R. Daniels Inc., which operates today in Ellicott City.
By the 1960s, the prospect of installing a mandatory sewer system prompted C.R. Daniels to begin demolishing the mill workers' homes and encourage the town's residents to relocate by 1968. The state wanted the land for a park and purchased all but the 2 acres where Gary Memorial United Methodist Church sits and 15 acres of mill property, Wingate said.
Despite that difficult decision, Vernon Abel, the third generation to run C.R. Daniels, said, "The people were loyal to the company, and the company was loyal to its employees."
"It was a great town," said his son, Gary Abel, current president of the company. "There are still people who work for us today that have ties back to the old mill. We lost most of our records in '72, so a lot has to be pieced together from personal accounts."
The company's actions notwithstanding, it was the destruction Agnes caused in June 1972 that former residents refer to as the official end of Daniels as a town.
"It's not that we're celebrating a natural disaster," Wingate said of the coming festivities. "We're honoring the life cycle of the river valley and the natural environment."
Events and talks will focus on the community's Patapsco Valley heritage and B&O Railroad history, as well as environmental and preservation issues. Museum-quality exhibit panels will feature aerial photos of the town and its landmarks. Tours, hikes, Civil War re-enactors, storytelling circles and music by the Daniels Band, which has been in existence continuously since forming in 1879, are also among the planned activities.
Today, the Daniels area of Patapsco Valley State Park draws visitors interested in paddling, fishing and hiking. All that remains of the town are the dam and remnants of the mill and the millrace that powered it, along with Gary Memorial United Methodist Church, built of granite in 1879 and situated high on Standfast Hill above Daniels Dam.
Perhaps the main constant in the life of the town is Gary Memorial, which still draws about 70 worshippers each Sunday.
"A number of folks have attended their whole lives," said Wingate, a member for 10 years, noting that the Gov. William Donald Schaefer regularly drove to services from Annapolis. "It's very much a church with a sense of its time and place, and it has a very welcoming congregation."
Among the roster of regular attendees is state Sen. James N. Robey, who will serve as keynote speaker Saturday. He has attended Gary Memorial for 65 years and currently drives in from Elkridge with his wife, Janet, who also grew up in Daniels.
Robey's parents and sister, who had remained in Daniels as caretakers after the town was virtually shut down in 1968, were rescued by helicopter from the roof of the mill manager's house where they lived when Agnes struck. Robey was on police duty elsewhere in the county and unaware of the drama, he said.
"The watchman on duty had warned my parents that the water was rising" and that they should leave, Robey recalled. "By the time my dad had moved the car [to higher ground], it was too late, and the National Guard was called to their rescue."
Robey lived in Daniels until age 23 and had been training to become a machinist until he "decided that wasn't what I wanted to do." He was one of two police officers hired by the county in 1966, he said. He went on to become Howard's police chief and later county executive before being elected to the General Assembly.
"I wish the town was still here," he said. "I'm concerned that the spirit of the people who lived and worked here will decay as more people pass away. Newer people are going to be oblivious" to the town's history and charm.
Jane Bourne Derrick, who lived in Daniels from 1936 to 1953, recalls a near-perfect upbringing, with swimming, ice skating and hiking available right in town. But it was the people who made the town memorable, she said.
"Everybody looked out for everybody else," said Derrick, 81, who remembers hiding behind the dam's waterfall to smoke cigarettes as a teen, and playing good-natured tricks at Halloween. "We were all friends, and the families were very close-knit."
The tenacity of the town's inhabitants is what Discover Daniels Day organizers hope to convey to visitors.
"Some of the history and stories of Daniels will sink in," Wingate said, "and that's the whole purpose of this day."
What: Discover Daniels Day, a free event open to all ages. Food and crafts for sale.
When: Saturday, Nov. 3, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Daniels area of Patapsco Valley State Park. Daniels Road will be closed for the event. Free parking and shuttle service will be available at Hollifield Station Elementary School, 8701 Stonehouse Drive, and the Crossroads Church of the Nazarene, 2750 Rogers Ave.