During the past couple of months, we've had a lot of out-of-town guests. And as anyone who has out-of-town guests knows, you've got to entertain these folks while they're in town.
I used to take weekend out-of-towners to Baltimore and Washington, but lately I've been sticking closer to home. Guests now get one day in Baltimore or Washington; the other day we go to Ellicott City.
When Ellicott City became one of my regular entertainment destinations, I figured people who were missing out on Washington or Baltimore would balk.
FOR THE RECORD - A column that ran Jan. 2 in The Howard County Sun referred to the original name of Ellicott City as Ellicott Mills. According to a local historian, the original name was actually Ellicott's Mills, although over the years the possessive form was dropped.
But to my surprise, everyone I've taken to Ellicott City has loved it -- so much so that most want to go back on their next visit.
Ellicott City is a quaint and charming town and the county is planning some worthwhile improvements to the historic section. The current sidewalk project, which eventually will replace crumbling concrete with new brick sidewalks, will be a tremendous improvement.
But there's nothing like having out-of-town guests to help you seean old place anew and to give you some ideas on what else can be done to make a place even more attractive to visit.
In these times ofeconomic downturn and budget cuts, I'll start with the low-cost improvements suggested:
* Clean up the trash along the stream that runs behind the shops on Main Street. Several renovation projects on that side of the street have opened up views onto the stream, which could be lovely except there are big hunks of trash and plastic along thebanks. Guests said they were surprised the county did not keep the stream area clean.
* Add some more benches. There are very few places for weary shoppers and sightseers to take a load off. I know the county eventually plans to construct a small park with benches in an unused lot near the Patapsco River, which will be a big improvement. But that project could take another two to three years to complete, according to Laura R. Csanady, a project manager for the Department of Public Works, who's in charge of Ellicott City streetscape improvements. The county should find a few spots for some extra benches in the meantime.
* Sand-blast that mural off the side of The Little Theater on the Corner. This suggestion may offend some people, since someone had to have painted it years ago, probably thinking it was great art. But most people I've taken to Ellicott City felt it added nothingand some felt it detracted from the historic nature of the area.
Csanady said the county was going to build some sort of structure there, which -- along with new landscaping -- would cover the mural. Butthe plans fell through because of some problem with getting approvalfor the structure. So perhaps the owners of the Little Theater mightoffer to remove the mural or let the county do it.
And now for the big ticket items:
* Add some more parking. This has been a constant, ongoing complaint about Ellicott City, particularly around holidays and special events.
I've always thought that deck parking behind the post office, if done properly, would be the answer. But Csanady said that lot is in a flood plain, so deck parking is out of the question.
The county has reconfigured the lot to pick up some extra spaces but it's not going to be nearly enough to relieve the problem.Anyone with creative ideas about how to add more parking should forward them to the county planners in the General Engineering Division of Public Works.
* Bury the power lines. This is not a new suggestion. It's incredibly expensive and has been shot down before as a result. But in historic towns where the power lines have gone underground, such as Annapolis, the streetscapes have been vastly improved. The lines in Ellicott City almost overwhelm the narrow streets.
Csanady said the county is studying the power line question in-house to seeif there is a more economical way to bury the lines than the original $6 million estimate.
Ellicott City is one of the most interesting and valuable resources in the county. If a cheaper way of burying the lines can be developed, it would be well worth the investment.
* And finally, here's a suggestion I would have never thought of: change the town's name back to Ellicott Mills.
I'm passing this suggestion along only because two relatives who are very interested in historic towns insisted the name ought to be changed back.
While eating lunch in the Phoenix Emporium, they read the back of the menu (which contains a brief history of Ellicott City) and were aghast that the county changed the name years ago.
Since the town originally wasnamed after its founders -- the Ellicott brothers -- and the mill they built, my guests thought Ellicott Mills was a perfectly appropriate name. They also thought it had much more character than Ellicott City (especially since the area is not an incorporated city nor does iteven vaguely resemble a city).
What's in a name?
In this case,they thought, a lot.