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Recalling the big Ellicott City Main Street makeover of 1961 | MOSTLY MAIN

Sixty years ago, on the weekend of May 20 and 21, 1961, Main Street got a major makeover. A dynamic group — mostly women — decided to spruce up the town and petitioned everyone from the Rockefellers on down to help pay for it.

They got paint donated, volunteer babysitters lined up, and, most difficult, they got a whole street full of shop owners and renters to agree to let them paint the buildings. The force of nature that was Jean Hannon worked for five years to reach the point where the project could be accomplished. According to folks who saw it, it was an amazing transformation and the beginning of the turnaround of the town.

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There were dozens of workers and almost as many “supervisors.” Details were so realistic that there was a report of someone later trying to unscrew and steal a set of trompe l’oeil shutters off the front of one building. I don’t know of anyone who participated in this impressive project who is still around, but if you are: Thank you!

John McGrain, who for many years was the historic sites planner for Baltimore County, died on May 2. McGrain was an expert on mills and had a deep interest in Ellicott City. He recently published a book called, “Mill Town’s 250th Anniversary” in anticipation of that milestone we will reach next year.

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John W. McGrain Jr. published the book “Mill Town’s 250th Anniversary.”
John W. McGrain Jr. published the book “Mill Town’s 250th Anniversary.” (File photo by Brendan Cavanaugh / 2007)

The book is a history of Ellicott Mills and includes a delightful “Picture Portfolio” with photos, period maps, paintings and vintage postcards. I met McGrain about 15 years ago. Historic Ellicott City Inc. wanted to build a Mill Education Center — a wonderful idea that was ultimately not accomplished due to lack of funds. We had a building site on the Tiber River and a wonderful design done by Main Street architect Dave Robbins and his staff at Architecture Collaborative. We wanted it to be as accurate as possible and so one day the planning committee scored a visit with McGrain at his Towson home. He provided a variety of important details for our project and was incredibly supportive. Even though the project didn’t happen, it was a great learning experience for all involved.

The cicadas are coming, and there are a couple of ways to get ready for them. First, the Howard County Conservancy is offering a “Wild Walk: Cicadas” program on May 22 and 29, starting at 9 a.m. This will feature a naturalist-led walk around the property. The fee is $10. For more information call 410-465-8877. If you really want to celebrate their return, The Wine Bin is offering a cicada package — a bottle of Cicada Wine paired with an impressive chocolate cicada from Sweet Cascades. Sounds like a good party.

There are new goats at Clark’s Elioak Farm. To get ready for a visit to see them, you can check out the baby goats streaming on Facebook on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10 to 10:30 a.m. They are adorable.

As I write this, it’s been reported that Howard County leads the state in the number of people vaccinated against COVID. I know that when I hit the two weeks past second shot mark, I felt a huge relief.

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I am still social distancing, wearing a mask and dining outdoors, but I am also seeing friends and going places. The lovely weather helps, too.

Please send your news items to janetkusterer21042@gmail.com.

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