In This Old Railroad Town, Catch a Train Back in Time
To reach the heart of Ellicott City, drivers must first skirt big-box stores and sprawling parking lots -- a copy-and-paste cutout of Anysuburb, America.
But the reward comes down a country road that bottoms out in a steep valley lined with old stone buildings and enchanting shop fronts, set to the soundtrack of a bubbling, town-center creek.
"It feels like driving through a small town back home," says Jeremy "Kipp" Clark, a British Web designer who followed his bride, Yesin, an Ellicott City native, to the area seven years ago. Kipp now runs EllicottCity.net, an online guide to the town.
"I always think, 'If these walls could talk . . .' " Kipp says of the historic enclave, founded in 1772 and still marked by much of the original architecture. "It is literally one of those towns where you can get lost and look at your watch and say, 'Oh, my gosh, it's 5 p.m.' You get inspired by it."
10 a.m. Breakfast at the Old Mill Bakery ( 4 Frederick Rd.; 410-465-2253). Park in the lot beside the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, and walk across the bridge to this beloved cafe. Try the homemade almond croissants or biscotti, or "if you're feeling naughty, they've got great treats," Yesin says of the dessert selection. Restaurant motto: "Life is short, eat dessert first."
11 a.m. B&O Railroad Museum: Ellicott City Station ( 2711 Maryland Ave.; 410-461-1945. $5, seniors $4, ages 2 to 12 $3). See the main depot of the nation's oldest surviving railroad station, built in 1830 and 1831, and learn about the railroad's impact on Ellicott City and the nation. Don't miss the 40-foot model train set.
Noon Window shop on Main Street. Antique lovers will have lots of stops to make, but Yesin insists you don't miss her two favorite stores in town: The Forget-Me-Not Factory ( 8044 Main St.; 410-465-7355) and Discoveries ( 8055 Main St.; 410-461-9600) At Forget-Me-Not, little and big kids will find all kinds of costumes, bubble-makers, old-fashioned candy and fantasy figurines (think unicorns and dragons). Discoveries carries ultra-feminine dresses, funky jewelry and pottery.
1:30 p.m. Lunch at Cacao Lane Restaurant ( 8066 Main St.; 410-461-1378). Some of the stone walls of this building date back more than 165 years -- and it feels even older, as if a merry band of men in tights could assemble at any moment for meat pie and brew. The fare, in fact, is classically Maryland (don't miss the crab dip).
2:30 Sit a spell at Tea on the Tiber ( 8081 Main St.; 410-480-8000). Pop across the street to this Victorian tea room for its shoppers' cream tea special, with English scones, fresh fruit and cheese. (You'll need reservations for the more formal afternoon tea.)
3:15 p.m. Patapsco Female Institute ( 3691 Sarah's Lane; 410-465-8500. $4, seniors and students $3 ). The ruins of this once-famous girls' school is one of Ellicott City's most noteworthy sites. Tour what's left of the Greek Revival-style structure that operated for much of the 19th century. It's now haunted, naturally. "They have ghostly things up there, and at twilight it's pretty bloody scary," Kipp warns.
4 p.m. Carpe Vinum ( 8026 Main St.; 410-418-5100). On your way out of town, stop by this favorite local wine shop to chat with owner John Bassett, who often has tastings on weekends. "He's another English guy," Kipp says. "And he's a real character -- but he knows his booze really well."