Savage has always been a company town — and in this case, the “company” is historic Savage Mill, once a busy textile manufacturing plant and now a thriving complex of shops, galleries and restaurants.
From Savage’s earliest days, the competing forces of history and commerce have given this unincorporated community its distinctive personality. Now, most of the 6,671 people who live in Savage commute to jobs in Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis. But that wasn’t always the case.
When the three-story rock-and-mortar cotton mill was completed in 1816, it needed workers to tend the massive wheel powered by the conjoined forces of the Little and Middle Patuxent Rivers — and those workers needed a place to live. The Savage Mill primarily manufactured canvas, used for everything from the sails billowing from 19th-century clipper ships to cannon covers to backdrops for Hollywood silent movies.
In the bad old days, the mill’s mainly female workers were often locked in for the duration of their shifts, endangering their safety. Employees were paid with a paper scrip that was good only at the company store. And the mill remained segregated until the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century.
Once the bottom dropped out of the market for canvas after World War II, the plant shut down for good. Savage Mill briefly became a Christmas display village, complete with a one-ring circus featuring live reindeer, a miniature train that transported visitors to and from the parking lot, and a turreted castle.
The mill has operated as a mix of antiques stores, shops and restaurants since 1985.
The different phases of Savage’s history are evident in the eclectic mix of housing, which ranges from 18th-century Colonials and 19th-century Victorians to mid-century ranch homes to contemporary townhomes. And though white residents still make up slightly more than half of Savage’s population, the community now includes substantial African American (32%), Hispanic (5.9%) and Asian American (5.9%) residents.
Today, the mill’s adventurous customers can ride a zip line over the treetops and above the historic Bollman Truss Railroad Bridge, an all-metal suspension truss bridge that’s beloved of railroad buffs. Those who prefer to keep their feet firmly on the ground can hike along the serene Wincopin Trails. A newly cleared area over a bluff that overlooks the juncture of two rivers is especially breathtaking.