Downtown Old Ellicott City is a walkable, mostly commercial area that lies in the valleys of the Patapsco and Tiber rivers. The town was founded in 1772 by three Quaker brothers who ran Ellicott’s Mills. It is home to the oldest surviving train station in the United States. Built in 1831, the station was the first terminus of the B & O Railroad line.
“Old Ellicott City is reminiscent of quaint European towns with 80-plus locally owned shops, restaurants, and more,” said Amanda Hof, executive director of Visit Howard County.
The historic district, sadly, is also known for two major recent floods. In 2016 and then again in 2018, floodwaters ravaged stores and restaurants, cratered streets and destroyed sidewalks. Buildings were destroyed or deemed structurally unsafe. Two people died in the 2016 flood and one person died in the 2018 flood.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced this year a five-year flood mitigation plan that includes building a tunnel and tearing down four buildings in the historic district.
About 18 months after the latest flood, a number of shops remain vacant. But Mark Miller, who heads Howard County’s Office of Public Information, pointed out that some businesses have reopened in new locations.
“Twenty new businesses have opened since last December,” Miller said in an email. “The county has purchased nine buildings on Main Street that suffered severe damage in the 2016 and 2018 floods. Those buildings are currently vacant and are undergoing stabilization. Three of those nine will be demolished for flood mitigation projects. The other six are undergoing stabilization before determining their future use. The county is hoping to acquire a tenth building, which would be demolished for flood mitigation projects.”
Matthew Fleming, president of Ellicott City Partnership, says government officials, volunteers and other agencies are collaborating and assessing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s recently published case study, “Rebuilding Stronger and Better,” which examined the recovery efforts.
Despite the flooding problems, Fleming and his family love the area bordered by the Patapsco River and its beautiful hiking trails.
“It’s a place where nature, history and modern amenities swirl into one,” he said.
The Forget-Me-Not Factory, a retail staple that was closed for 16 months after the last flood, recently reopened. The gift shop’s motto is “Where Fairy Dust and Bubbles Meet to Create Shopping Magic.” Another Main Street retailer, Unusual Company, is in a renovated circa 1905 bank. It’s a peculiar conglomeration specializing in horror/sci-fi props and graphic T-shirts, a gelato shop, a bookstore, an event venue, and escape rooms.
Michael Johnson is co-owner of the long-established Judges Bench Pub on Main Street, which had to close for about a month each time after the two floods.
“The best thing about living here is the people. This close-knit community is charming in every way,” he said.
Martha Clark owns Clark’s Elioak Farm. Her family has been farming in Howard County since 1797. The farm is a popular destination from April through November. Visitors and school groups enjoy the biggest petting farm around and larger-than-life storybook attractions formerly owned by Enchanted Forest.
“We attract a young demographic, families, students,” Clark said. “Kids can run, jump, tumble, and play. We are wireless, and the kids love it!”
Retired graphic artist Mark Praetorius lives with his partner in the house he grew up in. Although he has no children, Praetorius said good schools and excellent libraries are reasons people with families want to move here.
“For the taxes, you get a lot,” he said. “If I were young, raising a family, and I still worked in Baltimore, it’s hard to beat.”
Suzi Padgett, VP/ Branch Manager for Long and Foster, added, “The county library system, ranked as one of the best in the country, has a wonderful Ellicott City branch designed by renowned architects Grimm and Parker.”
The Charles E. Miller Branch and Historical Center, which opened in 2011, is Howard County’s largest branch library. It features sustainable features such as solar panels, a vegetative roof and an outdoor teaching garden.
Ellicott City is also home to a large Korean American population along the Route 40 corridor. More than 180 Korean American-owned businesses and restaurants operate there, and in 2017 Gov. Larry Hogan dedicated a segment of Route 40 from Rogers Avenue to Greenway Drive as “Korean Way,” recognizing the community for revitalizing shopping centers along the highway.
Living there: “The housing market is robust in all price ranges up to $850,000,” Padgett said.
In 2018, 1,181 homes were sold in the Ellicott City area, at a median price of $516,000. Old Ellicott City has mostly single-family homes and some townhouses available within walking distance of the shops and restaurants. The lowest-price home in Ellicott City sold this year was a three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo priced at $116,500. The highest-price home was a six-bedroom, six-bathroom single-family house for $2 million.
Padgett credits the high demand for Ellicott City properties to its location between Baltimore and Washington and desirable amenities such as Centennial Park, Turf Valley Resort and Golf Course, Clark’s Elioak Farm, and Manor Hill Brewery.
Schools: Bellows Spring, Centennial Lane, Northfield, Hollifield Station, Ilchester, Manor Woods, St. John’s Lane, Triadelphia Ridge, Veterans, Waverly, and Worthington elementary; Bonnie Branch, Burleigh Manor, Dunloggin, Ellicott Mills, Folly Quarter and Patapsco middle; Centennial, Howard, Mt. Hebron and Homewood Center high.
Transit: The Regional Transportation Authority offers some bus service throughout Ellicott City. The closest MARC train station is St. Denis, which is about 14 miles away from Old Ellicott City. Major thoroughfares include Route 29 and Interstate 70.