Ellicott City is a town on the rebound, steeped in history and sustained by hope. Twice in the past five years floods have ravaged Main Street, the nexus of the sprawling community with its kitschy shops and bistros. Each time, the town clawed back — determined, it seems, to celebrate its 250th birthday in 2022.
From its gritty start as a riverfront mill town in 1772, the county seat has survived and even thrived, blossoming into a mélange of upscale neighborhoods with a diverse population that helped earn it acclaim as the fourth-best place in the country to live, according to Money Magazine in 2018.
Founded by three Quakers from Pennsylvania (brothers John, Andrew and Joseph Ellicott) on the banks of the Patapsco River, the town has long found itself in the crosshairs of history. Witness the B&O train station, built in 1831 and the oldest remaining railroad passenger depot in the country. A National Landmark, it’s now a museum at the foot of old Main Street — a five-block display of architectural antiquity — and a centerpiece of the byway’s vintage charm.
Here also is the Ellicott City Colored School, which opened in 1880 and is now preserved as a restored one-room museum furnished with early-20th-century artifacts.
While the town plays up its roots, there’s a progressive bent as well. Ellicott City is home to a growing number of Korean Americans, some 13,000 strong, whose restaurants, shops and other businesses (166 in all) have energized a five-mile stretch of U.S. Route 40 now known, officially, as Koreatown. Asian food joints pepper the landscape, touting such gastronomic favorites as bibimbap and Korean barbecue.
Residents praise the area’s first-rate public schools, award-winning parks and senior services, which — along with proximity to Baltimore and Washington — have swelled the population by 36% since 2000. Housing isn’t cheap: the median home price tops $500,000, and million-dollar residences aren’t uncommon. New and existing townhomes are snapped up fast.
Still, recreation space abounds. Centennial Park, a 337-acre jewel, is a magnet for hikers, bikers and anglers, with a 2.6-mile trail that circles a 54-acre human-made lake stocked with trout and bass. The park’s picnic sites and playgrounds are attractive to families as well.
Moreover, Patapsco Valley State Park threads its way through the town in the northeast part of the county, including Cascade Falls Trail, a scenic 2.1-mile hike graced by a waterfall. It’s a stress-buster for locals and visitors alike.