Ellicott City, Maryland, had its beginning in 1771 when John, Andrew, and Joseph Ellicott, Quaker brothers from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, decided its unique geography – a steep granite slope emptying four streams into the Patapsco River – would be perfect for milling. They actually were not the first to have the idea. James Hood had built a grist mill in the area in 1766.
The force of water traveling through the narrow granite channels or along the river meant that the area was ideal for water-powered milling, and the Ellicotts not only bought Hood’s mill (which had been rebuilt by his son Benjamin after a flood), but dotted the picturesque valley with flour mills, oil mills, saw mills, stables, and a grain distillery. Ellicott Mills was born. The road through town became known as the National Road and the town became the terminus of the first 13 miles of railroad in the United States (and still home to the oldest Railroad Station building in the country).
Except for the Mill that produces Washington Flour, milling has long since departed the area and the buildings that once housed stores and hotels for the bustling town are now filled with antique stores, bars, and boutiques. And that water that once fueled the town’s growth now often threatens its existence, with recent devastating floods in 2016 and 2018 joining a long history of flooding that has periodically claimed lives and destroyed property.
But through it all, the good and the bad, Ellicott City has proved an indomitable place where the water and light play off the quirky geography in ways that make for fun photos. I’ve been lucky to call it home for eight years.