When the Ellicott brothers (Joseph, John and Andrew) purchased the site for their mill along the Patapsco River in 1772, they had to literally hack their way through the wilderness. The first building constructed by the Ellicotts was a log hut to house men and supplies. Within a few years they had built their mill, a store, and houses for themselves and their workers in the vicinity of the river which supplied the mill's power.
Gradually as the town grew toward the East along Main Street, it was limited not by the river banks, but by the great outcroppings of native granite which abound in the area. Ellicott City's hilly terrain, the granite, and the river limited the city's expansion as it does today. Streets rise steeply from the river front, winding around great mounds of granite to finally attain the more open residential sites above the town. In 1868 Ellicott City suffered its first major flood and in addition to many of the buildings along the Patapsco, many of the mills between Sykesville and Ellicott City were destroyed. After this tragedy, commerce began to shift to Baltimore City.
Just as the terrain determined where buildings were built, the culture of the early settlers determined how they were built. The Ellicotts and many of the workers they brought with them to settle the land were Quakers from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They were plain people in taste as well as religion.
Using local materials, wood, cut granite, and rubble stone, they built structures which reflected their humble origins. Later, in the mid-19th century, one finds a few attempts at aggrandizement in some Greek Revival buildings such as the courthouse, but even these are restrained and unadorned. A few examples of Victorian architecture can be found along Main Street and a few of the early mill buildings have been Victorianized.
The industrial and transportation associations of the town declined with the advent of the 20th century.
The Ellicotts were credited with the invention of the wagon brake and for the introduction of plaster of paris as a fertilizer. As builders, they financed schools, a Quaker meeting, stores and a series of granite houses in Baltimore County. As industrialists they operated an iron works and a rolling mill.
Andrew Ellicott, with the aid of the talented free black, Benjamin Banneker, finished L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D.C.. He published almanacs, laid out the town of Erie, Pennsylvania, made a topographical study of the Niagara River, served in the American Revolution and taught at the United States Military Academy.
Joseph Ellicott and his son made the first four-faced clock in the United States.
In 1789, John Ellicott, Jr., demonstrated a steam propelled boat. The Ellicott family, working with other prominent businessmen, including Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was responsible for the construction of what is now the Old National Pike, which begins in Baltimore and extends west to Cumberland. Founded in 1805 as the Baltimore-Fredericktown Turnpike Company under president, Jonathan Ellicott, the road provided convenient transportation for Carroll's wheat to the Ellicott's mills on the Patapsco and wharves at Baltimore Harbor.
The completion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Ellicott City on May 22, 1830, further facilitated transportation of goods and secured the continued prosperity of the town. The location of the station on the west bank of the Patapsco River provided an impetus for the growth of the town on its present location. The Ellicotts provided for the division of their property into town lots in 1840, along the Old National Pike, which became Main Street. Andrew Ellicott's experience in the planning of Louisville, Buffalo, and Erie, most probably influenced the configuration of the town.
Originally named Ellicott's Mills, the prospering settlement was chose as the seat of the newly created Howard County in 1851. In 1857 the name changed when Ellicott City became incorporated. The City abandoned its corporation in 1935.
During the 19th century Ellicott City gained popularity as a summer retreat from Baltimore. H.L. Menken represents the most noted summer resident. During his childhood, he lived on Church Road. In Happy Days Menken relates his experience in Ellicott City, including the first time he smelled printers ink at the Howard County Times.
Political figures associated with the town include Henry Clay, who gave a speech at the Patapsco Hotel and Robert E. Lee who was a frequent visitor to Lynwood, a home in the city.
Nearby Towns: Catonsville • Columbia • Elkridge •