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Remembering Rock Hill College: When Ellicott City was a college town

Rock Hill College Football Team 1910.
Rock Hill College Football Team 1910. (Howard County Historical Society)

Once a college stood on the ridge above Ellicott City — a Catholic men’s institution with a tidy campus and a four-story academic building made of granite cut from local quarries. Rock Hill College had a gymnasium and swimming pool and sports teams that once defeated Maryland in both football and baseball.

Never heard of Rock Hill College? It all but burned to the ground in a fire in 1923, leaving only its namesake road (College Avenue) and those stone walls, 18 inches thick, now the handsome shell of the Greystone condominiums.

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The walls went up in 1824 as part of Rock Hill Academy, a private boys’ school. In 1857, it became a full-fledged college run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who, 12 years earlier, had established Calvert Hall College. Rock Hill housed as many as 130 students, most from Maryland and neighboring states, who studied a challenging curriculum rivaling those of most universities of the day.

The college, whose colors were blue and white, held its own in sports as well, playing Johns Hopkins in baseball, Loyola (basketball) and even Maryland, which it defeated, 11-6, in football at College Park in 1901.

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Rock Hill College Baseball Team 1900.
Rock Hill College Baseball Team 1900. (Howard County Historical Society)

Commencement drew sizable crowds. In 1880, more than 1,000 attended and sat in the shade of a towering oak as the college orchestra played “Hail, Columbia” and luminaries presented diplomas. One year, Cardinal James Gibbons addressed the graduates; another time, Gov. John Lee Carroll passed out the sheepskins. Alumni went on to become judges, lawyers and engineers; doctors, bankers and teachers.

In January 1923, a late-night chimney fire gutted the college; local residents took in shivering students who, the following year, helped christen a similar institution in Washington, D.C. Howard County officials rebuilt the charred site as a combined elementary/high school, which closed in 1976. Homeless people and partying teens moved in until another fire nearly leveled the site in 1982. The walls, of course, survived.

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