Howard County historical odyssey

2001: A

March 16, 1997|By Norris West

LIKE MANY people here without generations of county heritage, I have plenty to learn about Howard County's rich history.

But I suspect that the next four years, leading up to the county's sesquicentennial celebration, will provide ample opportunity to delve into its past.

There is time to brush up. The 150th anniversary of Howard County's incorporation comes in the year 2001. A citizens group led by former County Councilman James Holway already is working hard to make it a success.

This should be a time when the county's diverse community can share its varied experiences and, perhaps, excavate buried parts of history. If it is done well, the celebration should engender both pride and a little pain.

The county never witnessed a spectacular battle of the Civil War or the Revolutionary War. But Maryland's second-smallest county in size flourished in the midst of the Industrial Revolution and struggled over the peculiar institution of slavery. Destructive fires and flood came, which tested a resiliency that never waned. Some relics of the past perished -- the whole town of Daniels went under -- but other artifacts remain despite steady and booming growth.

Howard never lived here

Rich stories are behind the formation of a jurisdiction named for John Eager Howard, a Revolutionary War hero who owned property in the county but never lived here. The names Dorsey's Search and Phelps Luck have a long history, although they sound like 1960s Columbia constructions.

Admittedly, my research into the county's history is in its infancy. But before the sesquicentennial comes, I hope to change that.

Sometime this year, I will finally take genealogist Beulah Buckner's African American tour of Howard County to explore old slave quarters here and remnants of the Underground Railroad.

I will press for a closer look at some of the historic homes that Celia Holland captures in her book, "Old Homes and Families of Howard County, Maryland." My first look a few years ago at Doughoregan Manor, probably the most famous of the county's historic residences, was too brief.

Also unsatisfying was my recent glimpse of Blandair, the mansion that now is buried behind overgrown weeds and mechanical decay on the late Elizabeth "Nancy" Smith's farm between Thunder Hill Road and Tamar Drive in Columbia. A view from the outside shows how ragged the once-proud brick home has become. Any agreement to build should require the developer(s) to contribute heavily to a restoration fund for the mansion.

Where to start one's search

Anyone looking for a place to begin a march through local history might start with Joetta M. Cramm's nicely paced, "Howard County: A Pictorial History."

The compilation of pictures of families, homes, civic groups and churches begins in the early days and take readers through its industrial and social growth.

I have yet to secure a copy of Ms. Holland's 1987 book that carefully connects big names in the county with the homes and communities they built. Her book is in the reference section at the Howard Central Library in Columbia.

Ms. Holland's book tells of the Hon. John Dorsey, who settled at Troy, a 736-acre tract in the place that would be called Elk Ridge Landing, in November 1695. Elkridge is the county's oldest European settlement, by anyone's account.

"Origin and History of Howard County, Maryland" by Charles Francis Stein is a 1972 book that contends that Elkridge was settled in 1661 by a man named Job Larkin. Of course, Native Americans were there first.

All those books leave huge gaps, some of which are filled by "History of Blacks in Howard County, Maryland," by Alice Cornelison, Silas E. Craft Sr. and Lillie Price. The book, published with the help of the local NAACP, lacks slickness but is chock full of details about the development of the black community here.

Serious researchers should turn to the Howard County Historical Society, although some of the original documents there are so delicate they must be handled with protective gloves. The society's library has limited hours.

Howard's past is filled with accounts of land grants, wealth and new industry that arose near the Patapsco and Patuxent rivers.

Although soldiers fought no great battles here, Union troops hopped a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad train here to ride into Baltimore for battle in the Civil War. Before the Revolutionary War, a protest over the Stamp Act sparked an Elk Ridge Landing action in which angry demonstrators burned in effigy Zachariah Hood, the tax collector.

And then there was Maryland's answer to the Boston Tea Party, an action in which local patriot Charles Alexander Warfield led a group to Annapolis.

There, they forced the owner of a British ship to burn his vessel in an action called the first "overt act against the authority of the king of England in Maryland."

Each community has a story, and the years leading up to the celebration will give these tales a chance to come to life.

Norris West is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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