Flood doesn't diminish passion for Ellicott City [Mostly Main Street]

Howard County Times

I moved to suburban Ellicott City, just four miles from the historic district, with my family in 1987. From the very beginning the charm, community and history of Main Street and beyond made us want to be a part of this warm and welcoming community.

I remember one of the most popular stores at the time, the Maryland Store, sold a T-shirt that everyone had to have. It was red and said in bold gold letters: London, Paris, Rome, Ellicott City. We have always been proud and confident of our contributions to the world around us.

I got to know the town gradually then, visiting the Nature Conservancy so my sons could buy miniature plastic dinosaurs and glow in the dark stars for their bedroom ceilings. We would go to Mumbles and Squeaks Toy Shoppe for the latest Beanie Baby and the Christmas Co. for miniature wooden reproductions of buildings around town. Every kid had to go to Ellicott’s Country Store for penny candy from Miss Enalee.

And if you were in a hurry and hungry, you knew that there were plenty of free food samples on the second floor of Stillridge Herb Farm.

Brides could find THE gown at Alda Baptiste then go up the street to Oh My Word for calligraphy on their wedding invitations, then of course on to Fisher’s Bakery for the perfect cake.

In the early years of the Internet, I managed to download a photo of a platypus and Fisher’s recreated it on a cake for my son’s birthday.

In addition to all of the great shop owners, I have met some very interesting people over the years, visitors who loved the time they spent here. When I worked in public relations at the Margaret Smith Gallery, I spent a day escorting Jodi Benson, aka The Little Mermaid, around town for a Disney event at the Gallery.

I also met the lady who was the voice of Cinderella there.

At the Atlantis Fine Art Gallery, I met Dwayne Hickman, star of the iconic “Dobie Gillis” television show of the 1950s. He was very excited to take one of the popular ghost tours with his wife and young son. I once heard a story of a shopkeeper on Main Street refusing an out of town check from a visitor. Turns out the visitor was Barry Manilow, in town to perform at Merriweather Post in Columbia.

One of the first places we ate dinner was at Cacao Lane, seated in the coveted window spot. I also remember the fire that started at Main Street Blues and destroyed a row of buildings—but they all came back. They just about always do. The draw of this special town is such that it seems there is always someone eager to take a chance and try again, so the town has remained vibrant despite the turnover.

I’ve talked about commerce here but it is also important to remember history.

I am so sad that in this flood, we lost the tiny granite courthouse on the corner of Parking Lot F. This building was built in the early 1800s and served as the courthouse from 1840 to 1843 while the big one was being built up the hill.

When I was involved with Historic Ellicott City Inc. in the late 1990s, we turned it into the Heritage Orientation Center, with dioramas and timelines showing what the town was like in its early mill days.

Many in the historic district, like me, are very conscious of the town’s history. That’s one reason why, when there is talk of demolishing buildings, that people should stop and consider what we would be losing.

That building at the bottom of Main Street that houses the Forget-Me-Not Factory and its owner Barry Gibson, always out on the sidewalk in some crazy costume entertaining kids with his bubbles—that building was the Opera House where John Wilkes Booth once performed. And of course, across the street from that, is the first terminus of the B&O Railroad, the oldest in the United States. That is a part of our history worth saving, over and over again.

My first “Mostly Main Street” column was published 16 years ago. I hope to watch my friends rebuild our wonderful town and report on their progress for years to come.

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