If living above a shop holds an old-fashioned allure, Old Ellicott City in Howard County, Md., is a place to check out. Many of the second stories above stores on Main Street are apartments.
“And there’s nary a right angle in any of them,” said Kelly Zimmerman with a laugh. She lives upstairs next to the antique shop her parents once owned. As a young adult, she moved away but returned for good in 1999.
Old Ellicott City, the historic district of Ellicott City, is about 325 acres and home to 1,200 people. The town sits in the Patapsco River valley, 35 miles northeast of Washington. Columbia is south, Elkridge is east, Baltimore is 13 miles northeast.
On weekends, Main Street bustles with visitors shopping in antique stores, taking in gallery exhibits, imbibing in cafes, restaurants, and chocolate and ice cream shops, and exploring historic sites.
On weekdays, locals fill the streets, flitting in and out of shops amid schoolchildren peeking into windows while teachers try to inspire their attention with historical trivia.
Hills and valleys: Old Ellicott City is a former mill town founded by three Ellicott brothers. They bought 700 acres along the Patapsco River in 1772 and built gristmills and housing for their workers.
The city is ensconced in a valley of granite that protrudes in numerous outcroppings. The hilly streets will challenge any bicycle rider and keep the rest of us in shape.
Many edifices built into the hill are more than 100 years old. Staircases rising from the sidewalk up the stone hill and beyond lead to rear yards and gardens.
Architecture ranges from early 1800s primitive stone to Federal, Georgian and Italianate, said Kimberly Kepnes, a resident and real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. The result is an aesthetically pleasing streetscape.
There’s also Victorian, Colonial, American Foursquare and 20th and 21st-century new construction. “Many converted structures that once were barns, schools and churches have been refurbished as homes,” she said. Stone used to build houses was quarried nearby.
Renovations prompted by flood damage last July are in progress along Main Street. “Some good came out of that flood,” said Zimmerman. “It pulled everyone together. Even Jon Weinstein, our county councilman, rolled up his sleeves.”
A community Facebook group shares news and tips. “Say you’re looking for someone to do tree work — you’ll ask for a referral. It’s our own bulletin board,” she said.
“There’s certainly something for everyone in Old Ellicott City. If you’ve been here before or are just reading about it for the first time, you might wonder why you’re not already living here,” said Kepnes.
Things to do: Thriving independent shops ring Main Street, line Old Columbia Pike and offer multitudes of things for daily living. “I can get everything I need and do everything I want right here,” said Zimmerman.
A Saturday farmers market — in the Wine Bin parking lot — sells Howard County vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats, baked items and prepared foods. “If I need a grocery store, there’s Safeway, Giant and an Asian market that sells super-fresh fish, all within one and a half miles,” she said.
Shops are open late and wares spill onto sidewalk tables on monthly First Fridays.
Live music blasts from the Courtyards at Tongue Row on Saturday nights. You’re encouraged to bring a picnic dinner. Sundays are for Backyard Brunch and the sounds of local musicians, also at the Courtyards at Tongue Row.
Patapsco Valley State Park and Patuxent National Wildlife Research Refuge are outstanding natural recreation destinations.
Living there: Old Ellicott City, Zip code 21043, is an amorphously shaped town that extends roughly a mile out from the center of Main Street. A few of the streets that border Old Ellicott City include Maryland Avenue, St. Paul Street, Rogers Avenue and Park Avenue.
Kepnes, the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage agent, said single-family houses are predominant. There are some attached homes and rowhouses. Many barns, schools and churches have been converted to residences. Rentals are common, too.
Five properties are for sale, ranging from a three-bedroom, two-bathroom single-family ranch house on half an acre for $389,500 to a five-bedroom, four-bathroom single-family American Foursquare on two acres for $1,150,000.
One property is under contract. It’s a five-bedroom, four-bathroom single-family Victorian on a quarter acre for $695,000.
In the past year, 12 homes sold, ranging from a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Victorian for $190,000 to a three-bedroom, three-bathroom Cape Cod on an acre with an in-ground pool, for $699,000.
Transit: Walking and driving are the best ways to get around. Parking is plentiful, with 220 free spaces in one lot. Drive straight to the Welcome Center at 8267 Main St., and pull into the lot behind the building.
Dorsey Station, at Exit 7 on Maryland Route 100, is a MARC train station providing commuter service between Baltimore and the Union Station Metro stop on the Red Line. An Amtrak station is at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.
Schools: St. John’s Lane Elementary, Hollifield Station Elementary, Veterans Elementary, Ellicott Mills and Dunloggin Middle, Centennial and Mount Hebron High.
Crime: According to the Howard County Police Department, there were 11 assaults, seven burglaries and one robbery in the past year.