Howard County Then and Now

People have been leaving their mark on Howard County for hundreds of years. While we have no buildings left from the Native Americans who made our area their home, those coming later from other continents have left many structures for us to explore. Have you wondered about how much Howard County has changed over time? This summer the Howard County Historical Society is giving you the chance to explore important sites from the past. The map on the other side was created in 1860, ten years after it became a separate county in 1850. Take a tour through time by visiting these Howard County historical sites.

You can get the “Howard County Then and Now” map at the Howard County Fair or the Howard County Historical Society in Miller Library. Look at the image from the past. Take a picture and upload it to any of the Howard County Historical Society’s social media with parent permission. Check off a site when you visit. If you visit 12 of the 18 sites by September 30, bring your map with the sites checked off to the Howard County Historical Society in Miller Library to get a cool prize!

1 – Museum of Howard County History

Does this building look like a church? You are right! Until 1960 it was a Presbyterian Church. It was built in 1894 when a much older church on the site collapsed during renovations. Today it is home to the Historical Society’s museum. Go inside and you will see hundreds of objects that tell the story of Howard County’s history. You will learn about the early Native American population, European settlers, early industry, slavery and the Underground Railroad, and even a bit about Howard County today!

https://hchsmd.org/about-museum-of-howard-county-history/
8328 Court Avenue, Ellicott City. Open on Friday, Saturday, Sunday 1:00-5:00 p.m.

2 – Ellicott City Jail

Yes, this was Howard County’s jail for 106 years! This stone building was constructed in 1878 to hold 12 inmates. “Dark cells” held those awaiting execution in the morning. Until 1916, hangings took place on the site. During World War II, it housed German prisoners of war, who labored on local farms during the day. In 1984, inmates were transferred to the new detention facility in Jessup. Currently, plans are being discussed for how to preserve the jail and commemorate its history.

Above the Courthouse at the intersection with Emory Road in Ellicott City.

3 – The B & O Railroad Station

You are looking at the oldest surviving railroad station in the United States! It was the end of the first 13 miles of commercial railroad in our country. The Main Depot building was constructed in 1830-31. Inside you will learn the history of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and its impact on our area. Model Railroads and replicas may also be seen. The station is restored to look like it did in 1857. There is a fee for interior tours.

https://www.howardcountymd.gov/recreation-parks/baltimore-ohio-ellicott-city-station-museum
2711 Maryland Avenue, Ellicott City.

4 – Ellicott City Firehouse Museum

This small firehouse was built by volunteers in 1889. It was Howard County’s very first firehouse. It served Ellicott City until 1923. Later it was used as a community meeting hall, county office space, and a library reading room. Today it contains displays on firefighting history.

https://www.howardcountymd.gov/facilities#historic-sites
3829 Church Road, Ellicott City.

5 – Thomas Isaac Log Cabin

The oldest structure in Ellicott City was built by Isaiah Mercer in 1780. It is believed was given to Thomas Isaac in 1858. The site served as an important resource for Ellicott City’s Black community in the 1870s because it was used as a meeting place by the early organizers of St. Luke’s African Methodist Episcopal Church. The cabin used to be on Merryman Street, but was moved and restored in its present location. After recent flood disasters, it needed additional restoration. The interior provides an idea of how Europeans and Africans lived during the time of colonial settlement.

https://visitoldellicottcity.com/item/thomas-isaac-log-cabin/
Corner of Main Street and Ellicott Mills Drive, Ellicott City.

6 – Patapsco Female Institute

On January 1, 1837, this building opened its doors as a boarding school for wealthy young ladies. It was one of the first schools to offer scholarships to girls who were not so well off. It taught its lessons until 1891, when it became a summer hotel. During World War I, it hospitalized wounded soldiers. In the early 1940’s, it began to fall into ruins. Today it is stabilized and surrounded by a park.

https://visitoldellicottcity.com/item/the-patapsco-female-institute/
Above the Courthouse at Church Road and Sarah’s Lane, Ellicott City.

7 – Ellicott City Colored School, Restored

When this schoolhouse first rang its bell in 1880, it was one of the very first schools for children of color in Howard County. Children enjoyed learning within these walls until the early 1950’s. The schoolhouse was restored in 1995. Today’s visitors can learn more about the Black history of Howard County. It also houses genealogical records. Find out what that big word means!

https://visitoldellicottcity.com/item/ec-colored-school/
8683 Frederick Road, Ellicott City.

8 – Waverly Mansion

When looking at Waverly, the wing to the right is the oldest section of the mansion. It was built between 1756 and 1764 under the ownership of Nathan and Sophia Dorsey. From this time through the end of the Civil War, Waverly’s farm and house work was done by enslaved people. Colonel John Eager Howard, for whom Howard County was named, purchased it in 1786. Colonel Howard became governor of Maryland in 1788. He gave the plantation to his son George and his wife, Prudence. George and Prudence are the ones who named the plantation “Waverly” in 1811 after a popular book of the time. The Howards raised thirteen children at Waverly, eight sons and five daughters. In 1832, George Howard became governor of Maryland. Waverly was put on the National Register for Historic Places in 1974. Today Howard County owns Waverly and it is a favorite site for weddings and other celebrations.

2300 Waverly Mansion Drive, Marriottsville.

9 – Oakland Manor

Can you believe this house was someone’s summer cottage? Charles Sterrett Ridgely lived in Baltimore when he built Oakland in 1811 as his country house. Future owners, the Olivers and the Gaithers, also used the home as their country estates while living in the city. Work on the Oakland plantation was done by enslaved people. From 1864 until 1906 a family named Tabb owned Oakland where they bred famous racehorses. The Rouse Company restored Oakland in 1989 and today it is managed by the Town Center Community Association. Surviving outbuildings contain the Howard County Center of African American Culture, the Carriage House, and private homes along Wilde Lake.

https://www.historic-oakland.com/about-us/
5430 Vantage Point Road, Columbia.

10 – The People Tree

In 1967, James Rouse dedicated his planned community of Columbia. That dedication included the unveiling of The People Tree, created by Pierre Du Fayet. Mr. Rouse had a dream that the new town would be the perfect place for people to grow to their full potential. The people growing on this tree are reaching out to their future in the new community. The People Tree has served as a symbol of the new town of Columbia since its beginning.

https://www.columbiaassociation.org/blog/people-tree/
The Lakefront in Columbia. Visit at any time.

11 – The Elkridge Furnace Inn Complex

From the late 1700’s until the 1850’s, a large iron works was located here. As early as 1750, Caleb Dorsey knew iron was found along the Patapsco River. He established the Elkridge Furnace. The river provided the power for the bellows. The iron was sent to England until the American Revolution when the forge made cannons and bayonets for American soldiers. The two wooden buildings housed the enslaved people who worked for the Dorseys to produce the iron goods. In 1822, the Ellicotts bought the property and made nails. Andrew Ellicott built the Federal/Greek Revival house in 1835. The Ellicotts were Quakers and opposed slavery, so they employed over 100 free workers. The forge closed in the 1850’s and was destroyed by the flood of 1868. Today the main house is a restaurant which uses the produce from the extensive gardens.

5745 Furnace Avenue, Elkridge.

12 – Thomas Viaduct

When the B&O Railroad wanted to build a branch from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., they commissioned Benjamin Henry Latrobe to design a bridge. The railroad named the bridge after its first president, Philip E. Thomas. Construction began in 1833 and was completed in 1835. It is the world’s oldest multiple arched stone railroad bridge. People laughed at the design and thought it would fail. They did not believe that the viaduct could stay up under the weight of railroad trains. But the bridge is still used even with today’s much heavier diesel trains. It is one of the oldest railroad bridges still in operation. During the Civil War, from 1861-1865, the Thomas Viaduct was an important transportation link, so it was heavily guarded by Union troops to prevent sabotage. In 2010, the bridge was designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

https://www.asce.org/project/thomas-viaduct-railroad-bridge/
From the Furnace Complex, cross US 1 on Levering Avenue. The Viaduct is straight ahead.

13 – Savage Mill

The Savage Mill used the fast flowing water of the Little Patuxent River to power its machinery to weave cotton sailcloth. This huge complex of mill buildings was used from 1822 until 1947. It was started by the four Williams brothers, but they named it for John Savage, who lent them the money to start their business. Entire families worked in the mill. The mill was the center of a community, with workers living in the mill houses across the street, shopping at the company store, eating food from the company farm chilled by ice from the company ice plant. The community hall housed a library and a bowling alley. In the 1940s, children enjoyed a Christmas village called Santa Heim! Today Savage Mill contains lots of fun shops, studios, and restaurants. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

https://www.savagemill.com/about-us/
8600 Foundry Street, Elkridge

14 – Bollman Truss Bridge

Have you ever seen a bridge that looks like this before? Probably not! This is the only remaining example of an all-iron truss bridge. It was the first successful all-metal bridge design to be adopted and consistently used on a railroad. It was patented by a Baltimore engineer, Wendell Bollman, in 1852. This one was built in another location, then moved here to Savage in 1888. It closed to traffic in 1915, but if you are careful, you may walk across it to reach the Mill Trail. In 1966 the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded the bridge as the first-ever Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000.

8650 Foundry Street, Savage.

15 – James Sykes House

James Sykes, a businessman, bought 1000 acres along the Patapsco River in 1825 and built a hotel along the B&O Railroad line west from Baltimore. Sykes rebuilt an old flour mill and turned it into the Howard Cotton Factory by 1845. These businesses attracted visitors and expanded into the town of Sykesville. Mr. Sykes needed a place to live, so he moved into this tiny old mill house until he could build his own 36-room mansion. That mansion burned down nearly 100 years ago, but the little stone mill house lives on! It is managed by the Town of Sykesville, on loan from Howard County.

South Branch Park on West Friendship Road, just before crossing the bridge into Sykesville.

16 – Historic Sykesville Colored Schoolhouse

In May of 1903, three fathers requested a schoolhouse for their children. There was no school for children of color in this part of Carroll or Howard County. The bell rang for the first time on January 3, 1904. It was a one-room schoolhouse for Black children on both sides of the Patapsco River during the days of segregation, giving generations of children their first chance for an education. The school operated until June 1939, when it was sold and turned into a private home. After thirty years as a private home, it fell into ruin. In 2006, the Town of Sykesville rededicated the restored structure to the teachers and students who had learned within its walls.

https://www.townofsykesville.org/2155/Historic-Colored-Schoolhouse-Then-Now
518 Schoolhouse Road, Sykesville. Open House on August 24 and 26, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

17 – National Road Mile Marker

The Historic National Road was the nation’s first federally funded interstate highway. It opened the nation to the west and became a corridor for the movement of goods and people. In 1811, an effort began to create a National Road to bring people and goods to the West. Parts of older roads were used and some new sections were built. The road runs right through Howard County! Stone markers were installed every mile to help people find their way. Every five miles the markers were incised with their distance from Baltimore City Hall. If you look very carefully, you can find several mile markers along Route 40 and MD-144.

MD Route 144, one mile west of MD-32. Drive further west on MD-144 to see if you can spot more mile markers! You can also look in the median strip of today’s Route 40!

18 – Lisbon Hotel

The Lisbon Hotel is an excellent example of what can happen when an old building is neglected! Be cautious and view this structure from across the street. Today it is unsafe to step onto its porch or get close to the building, but once it was a fine hotel. Imagine folks sitting on the balcony enjoying cool evening breezes. In the 1870’s, a woman named Fanny Webb ran the hotel, which served people travelling on the railroad and National Road. Travelers from Baltimore stayed at the Lisbon Hotel during the summers to escape the heat and disease in the city. The location on important transportation routes made this hotel very important……but today it does not look so proud! Hopefully someone will preserve and restore this fine old building to honor its history.

MD Route 144, on the north side of the road in Lisbon.

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