In its 118-year-history, Ellicott City has withstood great fires and floods, depression and desertion.
"Ellicott City is a survivor," says Alice Anne Wetzel, Howard County's historic preservation planner, who marvels at the former mill town's resilience.
That "persistence," says Wetzel, helped the town become one of Maryland's five "Main Street" communities. Gov. William Donald Schaefer selected Ellicott City and four other cities for the designation from a list of 10 finalists. Originally, 24 communities competed for the recognition.
Officials of the state's Office of Commercial Revitalization told Wetzel of the town's selection Friday. Other designated communities are Hagerstown, College Park, Gaithersburg and Pocomoke.
The Main Street designation comes with a $5,000 grant to the communities for signs and other promotions and could put them in line for more extensive financial and technical assistance from the state for its revitalization projects.
Edwin Hunley, a development officer at the state agency, said the designation could make it easier for the towns to receive up to $300,000 in state loans. He said the recognition, which is being presented for the first time, expires in three years but is renewable.
"We're looking for ways that we can recognize activities communities have done to help their downtowns and their shopping districts," Hunley said.
Colleen Riley, executive director of the Howard County Tourism Council, said the designation could be a boon for local businesses.
"It's an excellent opportunity for us to let people know we're here," said Riley, adding that it would help bolster the county's $415 million-a-year tourism industry.
The town was founded in 1772 by Quaker brothers Andrew, John and Joseph Ellicott, who built grain mills on the banks of the Patapsco River. It gained national fame when a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad steam train -- the first in the United States -- crossed a bridge over the Patapsco River and linked the community to Baltimore in 1830.
Storms drove the Patapsco over its banks, flooding the town several times -- the first in 1868 and the most recent in 1972 when Tropical Storm Agnes caused severe damage to Main Street. Fire also swept through the town many times, most recently in 1984, when six Main Street buildings sustained heavy damage.
Ellicott City has rebounded each time and the county now is preparing to embark on a beautification program.
"We've had floods; we've had fires. We've had famine in the sense that everybody had left for a time," said Wetzel, who prepared the community's proposal. "The revitalization is a credit to the community."