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Tour of historic Elkridge sites contrasts old, new


ELKRIDGE, LIKE many towns in Maryland, is a fusion of old and new.

With origins dating to the 17th century, Elkridge is the oldest settlement in Howard County. However, the recent residential and commercial development boom has concealed much of that history from all but longtime residents and discerning observers.

Last week, longtime Elkridge resident Helen Voris conducted an Elkridge heritage tour, pointing out historic sites in the community. Sponsored by the Elk Ridge Heritage Society, the tour began with a slide presentation at the Elkridge library branch - a building with a modern design that epitomizes the new Elkridge.

Many of the slides featured structures that no longer exist, such as the Elkridge railroad station, the Viaduct Hotel in Relay and the old Elkridge schoolhouse.

Voris contrasted these images with slides of the schools, chain restaurants, supermarkets, highways and housing developments that have altered the appearance and pace of life in Elkridge so dramatically in recent years.

One result of the development boom has been the shift of Elkridge's commercial and social activity away from Main Street. Images of the annual parade that opened baseball season in Elkridge captured the spirit of a smaller and more closely knit community.

"The baseball players would all go down Old Washington Boulevard together in their uniforms," Voris recalled.

The first stop on the tour was Belmont, a conference center owned by the American Chemical Society, and evoked fond memories for tour participant Grace Iglehart Carmichael. Built in the mid-18th century, Belmont was owned by U.S. diplomat David Bruce when Carmichael was growing up on the estate. Carmichael's father was the gardener at Belmont, and she was born in 1929 in the gardener's house adjacent to the big house.

"They had enough cows that we all got free milk and cream then," Carmichael said. "I ran wild growing up here."

The tour group ate lunch at the Elkridge Assembly Room. Built in 1870 as a means of reconciling the residents of Lawyers Hill after their divided loyalties during the Civil War, the building retains its 19th-century appearance and function.

The Elkridge Assembly Room is still a community meeting place and still has no plumbing or heating.

After lunch, the group toured the Thomas Viaduct, the Winans steam gun, the Elkridge Furnace Inn and historic buildings on Main Street.

The Thomas Viaduct is undoubtedly Elkridge's most distinctive landmark. The eight huge stone arches of the 700-foot-long viaduct span the Patapsco River between Elkridge and Relay.

Designed by 19th-century architect Benjamin Latrobe, the viaduct was completed July 4, 1835. His brother, attorney John Latrobe, lived on Lawyers Hill.

Because of its unorthodox design, the viaduct was dubbed "Latrobe's Folly" by skeptics who expected it to collapse with the passing of the first train.

Latrobe, it seems, has had the last laugh. The structure withstood the floods of 1868 and 1972 that destroyed much else along the Patapsco, and trains continue to rumble across the Thomas Viaduct.

The Winans steam gun has an equally interesting history. Manufactured by Ross Winans, the steam gun was purported to fire at a rate of 100 to 500 rounds a minute. The gun was captured in May 1861 at Ellicott's Mills by Union troops before it could be shipped by rail to Harpers Ferry for sale to the Confederates.

Now it stands at Old Washington Boulevard and U.S. 1 in Elkridge, a historical curiosity.

For longtime residents such as Carmichael, Lillian McCurdy and Marie Williams, the tour provided an opportunity to revisit the past and share their memories with others.

McCurdy, a resident of Elkridge for 50 years who lives in Catonsville, was on the tour with Kay Kmieciak and Shirley Powell.

"I wanted to share the history of where I grew up with my friends," McCurdy said.

Marie Williams, who has lived in Elkridge for 40 years, was accompanied on the tour by her two daughters.

"There's so much history here in Elkridge that the people who live here don't know," said Williams' daughter Linda Allen. "We're all learning something today."

Donna Gibson, on the tour with her 19-year-old daughter Heather, echoed Allen's sentiments.

"We moved to Elkridge from Pennsylvania seven years ago," Donna Gibson said. "This tour is a chance for us to learn the history of where we live."

Ellicott City centenarian

Elva Hayes, a resident of St. Agnes Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Ellicott City, celebrated her 100th birthday this month.

Hayes has resided at St. Agnes for the past four years and remains active at the center. She particularly enjoys playing bingo and participating in musical activities.

Longevity runs in the family, for Hayes has a 90-year-old sister.

Congratulations to Ellicott City's new centenarian.

Civil War program

The Elkridge library branch is holding a three-week series on the Civil War, "A House Divided: the War Between the States."

Programs will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4 and Oct. 11. Topics include Maryland's Civil War monuments, Marylanders' experiences in the Union Army and a dramatic presentation on President Abraham Lincoln during the war years.

Registration is required. Information: 410-313-5088.

Walk for healing

The Enchanted Forest Safeway is sponsoring a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Walk for Cancer at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 14 in Centennial Park in Ellicott City.

Sponsor forms are available, too. Information: 410-750-3000 or 410-465-8450.

Tea and talk

Parents of new Centennial Lane Elementary schoolchildren are invited to a tea in their honor tonight. The tea is an opportunity to meet members of the administration, PTA and other parents.

The event will be held in the school's media center at 6 p.m. today and will be followed by the first PTA general membership meeting at 7 p.m.

Information: 410-740-2177.

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