A County Comes Into Its Own Through the Centuries

Belmont was originally built in the 18th century by Caleb Dorsey. The Belmont Conference Center now belongs to Howard Community College.
Belmont was originally built in the 18th century by Caleb Dorsey. The Belmont Conference Center now belongs to Howard Community College. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Joetta Cramm
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 26, 2007

In the late 1600s, early English settlers, seeking land on which to build their fortunes, traveled west from St. Mary's City and Anne Arundel Town into the upper ranges of Anne Arundel County. For approximately 150 years, our county was part of Anne Arundel.

The first settlement in this area was the Ridge of Elk, named for the animals that roamed the hills above the Patapsco River. The settlers soon were producing tobacco. The crop was carefully tended, dried and transported to the port at Elk Ridge, Elk Ridge Landing, to be shipped to England. Tobacco provided credit at stores for food, clothing and housing needs.

By the mid-18th century the Dorseys owned property along the river and constructed a furnace for the production of iron. Caleb Dorsey, the iron master, built a family home on the hill above the Patapsco Valley. It came to be called Belmont and is one of the finest historic houses in the county.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton was considered the most important and wealthiest citizen in the area. He was the master of Doughoregan Manor, a large farm in the central part of Anne Arundel. It was built in the early 1700s and has remained in the Carroll family. As early Roman Catholic settlers, the family suffered many trials. The Carrolls built a chapel on their property that served others of their faith who also could not worship in public buildings.

Before the 19th century, the Ellicotts from Bucks County, Pa., settled along the Patapsco River, which became the county's northern boundary. After the Revolutionary War, the Ellicotts operated a flour mill, taking the product into Baltimore to be shipped abroad.

Throughout the 19th century, milling operations lined the Patapsco River, the majority of which manufactured cotton duck material. Among those mills were the Alberton Mills, later called Daniels Mill and Union Manufacturing, which was later known as the Dickey Mills at Oella. In time, the mills would close for a variety of reasons: floods, fires, a change in technology and economic problems.

Communities started to develop in the early 19th century. One of the earliest was called Hilton. It stood where Montgomery Road and the Old Columbia Pike now intersect. A store, a blacksmith and sometimes a wheelwright often were at such crossroads. Another early community was in the Savage/Guilford area. Guilford had mills and quarries in its early days.

In 1839, the Howard district of Anne Arundel was created. By 1851, Howard became an independent county, the second smallest in the area. John Eager Howard lent his name to this newly designated county. He was Maryland's fifth governor elected by the legislature and a war hero.

Howard County was a small agricultural community, with many marriages between families that had lived here for generations. At one time Ellicott City was incorporated, with a mayor and City Council. There are no longer incorporated cities in the county. Howard grew little until the mid-20th century. Before World War II , the population was stagnant, increasing by about 100 people a year and remaining fewer than 20,000. By the beginning of the 21st century, however, the population had grown to approximately 250,000.

There's little doubt that the changes in life in Howard County have been significant. The new town of Columbia, which was established in 1967, ultimately would bring nearly 100,000 people to the county. Growth continued elsewhere in the county as well. Today there are 12 high schools in Howard, compared with two in 1960. Traffic congestion has become a focal point of discussion for many groups.

There is a tremendous need for historic preservation throughout the county to be able to retain some of the ambiance of the past. We have lost a considerable amount of our landscape that reflected life of an earlier time -- fields of corn and wheat, herds of cattle and sheep and other agricultural reminders. The challenge now is to embrace our heritage and to protect the beauty, memories and importance of the rapidly changing place called Howard County, Md.

Cramm, a native of Illinois, has been a resident of Howard for 45 years and is the author of "Pictorial History of Howard County." She also was one of five women recently named to the Howard County Women's Hall of Fame.

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