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History & facts: What you need to know about Ellicott City

The Baltimore Sun
Get to know Ellicott City, a place rich in history.

Ellicott City was battered by intense rain and flooding Saturday evening in a storm that killed two people and caused massive destruction in the downtown district. Before the city in Howard County, Maryland received national attention for its weather-related tragedy, tourists and history buffs recognized it as a go-to place for small-town charm.

The unincorporated community lies on the west bank of the Patapsco River and around 10 miles from metropolitan Baltimore. The community of more than 65,000 people features historic railroad and building tours, a variety of restaurants and small businesses.

Here are some other key facts about the place with the "Charming Historic American Main Street."

  • Pronunciation: Ellicott (ELL-eh-kit) City
  • Population: 65,834, according to the 2010 U.S. Census
  • Ellicott City was named a top place to live by CNN Money in 2010 and Money Magazine in 2006.
  • The community was established by the milling industry in the late 1700s. Quaker brothers Joseph, Andrew and John Ellicott founded Ellicott's Mills after purchasing land west of Baltimore in 1772, according to a 1865 historical account by Martha Ellicott Tyson. The mills ground wheat and other grains after the brothers persuaded local farmers not to plant tobacco.
  • Settlers called the area "The Hollow" for the valley characterized by steep hills, according to Ellicott Tyson.
  • The Wilkins-Rogers plant produces Washington brand flour on the original Ellicott mill site. The plant is the only remaining grist mill in Maryland, according to Howard County tourism.
  • The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum has a historic station in the city. The museum, located in Baltimore, features "the oldest, most comprehensive American railroad collection in the world," according to the site's webpage. The Ellicott City location is the oldest U.S. station, featuring a depot built in 1831.
  • A coal train derailed in the community in 2012, killing two women that were sitting on the bridge that carried the tracks over Main Street along the Patapsco River. A broken rail was blamed for the incident.
  • The city is home to Banneker Historical Park, a 142-acre park and museum dedicated to Benjamin Banneker who was a leading African American scientist during the late 1700s; the Ellicott City Colored School, the first school built with public funds in Howard County for students of color; and the Elkridge Furnace Inn, a stop on the Underground Railroad.
  • Banneker and Andrew Ellicott were chosen to survey the boundaries of the new U.S. capital in Washington D.C. in 1791.
  • Lew Wallace, a general for the Union army, rested in Ellicott City during the Civil War, according to Howard County. Wallace is known for writing "Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ" in 1880.
  • The flooding on Saturday was the worst since Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, residents said. The community is prone to flooding with its close proximity to the river and steep granite rock formations.
  • A wooden post beneath the bridge carrying motorists over the Patapsco River is dotted with markers noting the highest recorded crests on the river.

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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