Historic Ellicott City Has a Sister, Part 1
A Tale of Sister Cities
Although Ellicott City has been ranked four times on the "20 Best Places to Live in the United States" list by Money and CNNMoney.com, the depth and essence of our quaint town by the river are not authentically captured by school rankings, median income, housing costs or just plain numbers and statistics. In comparison, to reduce Ellicott City to numbers seems so cold – albeit a significant and respectable quantifier – relative to this community's warm and inviting personality. Yes, Ellicott City has personality and it speaks in many ways – though the language isn't the same to each person who hears it.
Cities around the U.S. have their own faces and ways of doing things and most times, they like to find "sister cities" – that city that mirrors some of the same personality and qualities as itself. As an exchange student in middle school, I traveled to the province of Quebec, Canada. I stayed in Old Quebec City, passed through Old Montreal and put my backpack down for two weeks in Chicoutimi (a small village in Quebec). These places were all amazing, but I would have to say that Old Quebec City is, without doubt, Ellicott City's twin sister – albeit slightly larger.
Connection. Bond. Woven thread. Words used to describe a sister. Similarly, "sister city" can be described in the same manner. However, there are more factors to consider when cities take on this relationship, which mirrors human relationships. In this respect, the cities share many of the same things: architecture; culture; demographics; government structure; and history and more.
As we know, Ellicott City, our "Cabot Cove" on the Patapsco, was founded by the Ellicott brothers. Their vision to persuade farmers to plant wheat in place of tobacco revolutionized the farm industry in this area and catapulted Ellicott Mills to become one of the largest mills and manufacturing towns in the East. In 1864 war events escalated, which were the catalysts in 1867 for Ellicott Mills to become Ellicott City, a chartered city. However, the charter was lost in 1935. Ellicott City remained without a charter until 1973. At this time, it was designated as a historic district.
A median income figure doesn't capture the significance of the events that led to the Ellicott City we so adore today! Antique shops. Vintage clothing. Sightings. Coffee houses. Sports bars. French restaurants. Tattoo shops. Steak houses. Museums. Around every corner lies mystery and intrigue. These qualities are certainly the making of a marketing campaign to attract everyone from the interested antique collector to the ghost hunter looking for the ultimate proof of a restless spirit.
Imagine driving down Frederick Road towards Main Street, we begin to drive back in time although we're driving forward. On both sides of the street, we see small cottages – yesteryear's cabins. From the outside, one can only imagine the horses being ridden down the street by the vintage cowboy going to the mill and stopping at the towns' saloon for a shot and poker game. Do you hear the sound of the horses' shoes on the dirt streets as the gas lamps cast light as if to awaken the night? This black and white silent film can't be packaged into a school ranking.
The coziness didn't dissipate over the centuries. Ellicott City changed – but not much. The streets are still narrow. Many of the original buildings and homes still stand -- with some places restored like the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad aka The Ellicott City Station. The Station breathes so much history from its inception in 1830 to its second restoration in 1999 back to the 1857 appearance. Cobblestone sidewalks blend forward to cement sidewalks. The turn of the century saloon has now become the Judge's Bench and the Ellicott Mills Brewery. The low and steady chatter of passengers waiting for the next train at Ellicott City Station has been replaced by riders waiting for the area bus -- talking into mini-boxes that talk back.
But nothing brings more mystery and suspense from the past forward than the ghost stories about The Patapsco Female Institute. Once a prestigious finishing school for young ladies, this grand stone structure sits atop the hill like Mt. Olympus watching over the historic valley. Like oral historians, the townspeople continue to give life to the stories about strange happenings at Patapsco. It's been told that wealthy schoolgirl, Annie Van Derlot, died from pneumonia at the institute. It was known that she hated the school. Tourists and ghost chasers have seen Annie walking the grounds and vanishing into the daylight like a soul lingering between dimensions. Sounds like a scene from an independent film at Cannes or Sundance.
Like her "sister" Ellicott City, Old Quebec City shares many of the same things and, if the cities were human, they would've shared the same mother. In 1608, Quebec was founded by French explorer, Samuel de Champlain. Old Quebec (aka Historic Quebec) is surrounded by Quebec City. The entire settlement is located in the St. Lawrence River valley on the banks of the St. Lawrence. Historic Quebec is perched atop a hill encased in a fortress of walls – as it has been since the beginning.
Flashback to a time when horses were the only transport and one can picture an emissary arriving at the gate for permission to enter the old city to deliver his message.