Set squarely between the nation’s capital and Baltimore, Howard County is a well-blended mix of the bucolic, the urban and the suburban.
Spread out over 160,640 acres are sights as diverse as a quaint historic district; high-tech research parks; a mall with more than 200 stores; parks with rivers and forests; a lakefront city center; fields dotted with livestock; two arts centers; a wearable sculpture museum; two outdoor amphitheaters; and two 14-screen movie theaters.
The county can boast of such accomplishments as having the first national railroad terminus and one of the largest planned cities in the country.
Demographically, the county is considered affluent and well-educated. With a population of about 317,000, Howard has a median household income of $113,800, the highest in the state and among the highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 60 percent of residents over 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The county’s first settler, a Puritan named Adam Shipley, was granted a home near the Patapsco River in what is now Elkridge in 1687.
Farms, many planted with tobacco, sprouted along the rivers, and the county’s farmers became its leaders. The family of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, acquired 13, 000 acres of fertile fields and forest in the early 1700s.
Once farms were established, mills for cotton, lumber and corn, and furnaces for the iron dredged from the riverbanks, were built. The Ellicott brothers, Quakers from Pennsylvania, arrived in 1772 with a mission to convert farmers from tobacco to wheat. They settled in a hollow on the Patapsco River and sparked a vast number of changes in the county.
From the time the readers’ poll launches in August to the issue’s delivery in December, businesses, nonprofits and readers alike are abuzz in anticipation of who might take home the coveted Best of Howard County title.
Through their leadership, a road from Baltimore to Frederick was started — appropriately named Frederick Road. The Ellicott brothers also aided the beginning of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, with its first terminus in Ellicott City.
During the Civil War, Howard County sent its sons to both Confederate and Union armies, splitting families and communities. A portion of the Underground Railroad runs along U.S. 1 to Baltimore.
Heavily guarded by Union soldiers, the Thomas Viaduct Railroad Bridge in Elkridge served as part of the only rail line into Washington, D.C. In the late 1880s, the railroad brought the Bollman Truss Railroad Bridge, the sole surviving example of an evolutionary design in the history of American bridge engineering, to Savage Mill.
In the 19th century, the county became a haven for wealthy Baltimore and Washington residents who built summer homes, searching for relief in the fresh country air.
THE NEW CITY AND BEYOND
Until the 1950s, the county didn’t change much from its established agrarian lifestyle. It was then that suburban development — restaurants, motels and shops — began to appear along main arteries, attracting more residents.
In 1965, the county accepted the ambitious plans of developer James W. Rouse to buy 14,000 acres and build a planned city of 110,000 people. Rouse’s vision included the values of racial, religious and economic diversity and harmony, as well as a convenient and aesthetically pleasing place to live and work.
His plan included 10 villages, each with its own shopping area, recreation sites and school. Business parks would fringe the city, and a commercial downtown area would center on an indoor shopping mall and lakefront entertainment center.
Today, Columbia boasts hundreds of eateries, along with lakefront festivals and Merriweather Post Pavilion, a nationally known amphitheater that draws at least 250,000 people to concerts each year. The Columbia Association, the city’s quasi-government organization, runs a network of pools, gyms and recreation sites.
The city’s core is being redeveloped as part of a 30-year master plan approved in 2010 to add up to 5,500 new homes and 6 million square feet of office and retail space, along with new cultural amenities.
In recent years, The Mall in Columbia expanded its shopping and dining options and opened a new wing of shops and restaurants with outdoor entrances. Construction began on a multistage renovation of Merriweather Post Pavilion, in addition to the crescent of land surrounding it, and the new Chrysalis Amphitheater opened in time for Columbia’s 50th birthday last year.
As Columbia has grown and developed, so have the surrounding areas of Ellicott City, Elkridge, Clarksville, Highland, Fulton, North Laurel, Savage and western Howard County. Howard’s population has grown more than 10 percent since 2010. The thriving atmosphere for housing, jobs, places of worship, schools, parks, shopping centers and recreational areas makes Howard County a valued place to live and work.