Main Street is populated with ghosts. Some are mere echoes, a fleeting sense of yesterday hovering around a storefront late on an autumn afternoon. Others are as palpable as the granite hulk of the Howard Hotel, where couples now long dead sipped ginger ale during the 1890s.

This sense of the past is a theme of "Historic Ellicott City, a Walking Tour," local historian Joetta Cramm's new book. The book details in words and pictures the history of the various buildings along Main Street from its beginnings in the 1830s. It's a colorful story.

"There's always something new or changing," said Cramm, a former legislative assistant for the Howard County Council.

During the Civil War, according to Cramm, Union soldiers kept Confederate prisoners at 8044 Main St., where a gift shop now stands. A few doors down is the spot where, 95 years ago, a tobacco shop proprietor was found lying dead in a pool of blood.

Cramm, author of "A Pictorial History of Howard County," used old maps, land plats and interviews with "oldtimers" to gather information for the book. The first buildings along Main Street were plain wood and stone structures built by Quaker settlers. In 1834, Andrew McLaughlin held a lottery to sell a large section of land, lots that would later develop into much of what is Main Street today.

Why McLaughlin, who purchased the land from the Ellicott family, had to sell the lots remains a mystery. He may have been in debt or trying to raise money for a new business venture. The lots later became the site of the Patapsco Hotel, the Railroad Hotel, the old Town Hall and other buildings that now house shops.

A poster advertising the lottery paints an idyllic picture of the town at the time: "One of the most romantic, healthy and prosperous villages in the United States, admired by every passing traveller . . . . The cheerful bustle of the industrious and enterprising villagers {gives} the whole scene a most animating character and {makes} it the happy resort of thousands of admiring visitors."

In the course of her research, Cramm unearthed little-known facts. She came across a 1907 Baltimore Sun article in which artist Edwin Abbey recalled his boyhood in Ellicott City, then known as Ellicott Mills. Abbey recalled in the article that, in 1864, Civil War troops fresh from the battle of Monocacy marched into town and buried several soldiers near where Wessel Florists & Weddings Inc. now sits on Old Columbia Road.

Cramm, an Ohio native, says she has grown attached to Ellicott City since moving to the area in the 1960s. "It's friendly; it's warm," she said. "It's not like Williamsburg. It's not like Georgetown, where everything is glitzy and showy. There's still a bit of that small-town community, that hometown feeling."

She immersed herself in the town's history while researching her book. At one point, she pasted together photos of various sections of Main Street, then hung the resulting five-foot-long photo on a wall in her home.

Ellicott City has several claims to fame, Cramm said. The first commercial steam train run in America took place in Ellicott City. And in 1833, the first American president to ride a train -- Andrew Jackson -- came to Ellicott Mills by stagecoach and rode the train to Baltimore.

"Babe Ruth was also married in Ellicott City," she added.

The town reached its heyday in the 1850s, when the railroad and the mill industry boomed.

The town remained the social and business center of the county until the 1950s, when the mass production of cars and the growth of suburbia drained residents from downtown. The founding of Columbia in the late 1960s further eroded the town's influence.

Since then, the downtown has regained popularity as a tourist and shopping spot. In the past five years, a mini-boom has occurred, with several craft and art shops, boutiques and restaurants opening.

"It's getting stronger and healthier," Cramm said. "The quality of the shops has improved."