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Daniels, a once-bustling village, now ghost town in Howard County

Its bones lay on the forest floor, the stony vestiges of an old mill town now engulfed by vines and brush. Deep in Patapsco State Park, at a bend in the river, lie the ghostly remains of Daniels, a once-bustling village of 800 people and stores, churches, a post office, school and textile factory which cranked out the cotton goods that fed the stream of freight trains rattling past.

For more than a century, Daniels endured, weathering fires, floods, the Great Depression and two name changes. Christened Elysville in 1834, for the five brothers who built the three-story stone mill, it became Alberton 20 years later (for the new owners) and Daniels in 1940 (for the final proprietor).

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Danny Wilson, of Cumberland, takes a photo of one of the arched stone window frames still standing at the ruins of the Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church in Daniels.
Danny Wilson, of Cumberland, takes a photo of one of the arched stone window frames still standing at the ruins of the Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church in Daniels. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Workers and their families lived in the 118 brick-and-frame homes built by the Alberton Manufacturing Company in the 19th century. One longtime mill manager, James Gary, had a brick mansion with 21 rooms and five baths. The company ran the town, paid middling wages for long hours and, at one time, exploited child labor (kids as young as 12) to work the humming looms. Bosses also charged cheap rents ($4 a week in the 1960s, albeit in homes without indoor plumbing), sponsored summer jaunts to Tolchester Beach, in Kent County, and doled out turkeys at Christmas. In 1896, Gary — a devout Christian — built the Episcopal Church at his own expense.

For years, townspeople cheered their amateur baseball team, held Sunday school picnics and ice cream socials and heralded their cornet band. (Think: “The Music Man.”) It wasn’t all idyllic; sometimes nature intervened. In 1868, a flood ravaged the mill; 11 years later, The Sun reported that a storm “with hail as large as pigeon eggs” destroyed its roof. In 1926, lightning struck the Catholic church, which burned.

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Graffiti covers much of the remaining walls of the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Daniels.
Graffiti covers much of the remaining walls of the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Daniels. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

To the end, the village hung on. Then, in 1968, rather than modernize employees’ homes, the C.R. Daniels Company chose to raze them all. Workers moved elsewhere — a good thing in hindsight as, four years later, Hurricane Agnes swept away much of the rest. In 1978, a fire torched what was left. For years, however, old-timers reunited to hark back on life in the little valley town.

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