Ellicott City heritage center set to open today Project aims to educate area residents, tourists

August 21, 1998|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

Ellicott City resident Paul Miller considers himself a history buff. But when it comes to recalling facts about his own town, Miller admits that he could use a refresher course.

"There's a lot I still need to know about this historical place that I live in," said Miller, as he walked in the historic district this week. "There's so much I don't know."

Along with hundreds of others, Miller will get a chance to learn more today when the Heritage Orientation Center opens.

The center, housed in the old court records building on Main Street at Ellicott Mills Drive, will open after four months of renovation. After today, the center will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. Admission is free.

A joint project of the Howard County Recreation and Parks Department and Historic Ellicott City Inc., the center's purpose is to provide residents and visitors with a keen understanding of the history of the city, said Ed Williams, the center's director.

"People can come here and get a quick overview of how this city came to be," Williams said. "Anyone who has questions about Ellicott City can come here and get all of their questions answered."

As the tourist industry continues to boom in the town's historic district -- 22,000 tourists visited the area last year -- nearby residents say the center is a welcome addition.

"I think that anything that promotes our town's history is worth it," said Brenda Franz, who has lived in the area for 14 years and owns an antique shop. "We don't want the history of this town to die out."

Walking tours and museums exist in historic Ellicott City, but Janet Kusterer, president of Historic Ellicott City Inc., said no facility provides residents with a comprehensive understanding of the town's beginnings.

"This is the only place that provides this kind of history," Kusterer said.

The center's initial exhibition, "Founders, Floods and Mills," is a self-guided tour that reveals the story of the Ellicott family, Quakers who left Bucks County, Pa., 225 years ago to start a mill industry in what is now Ellicott City.

The Ellicotts moved to the area, purchased land and water rights and constructed the largest grain mills in Colonial America.

The exhibit also charts the floods that have hit the area with deadly and destructive regularity from 1786 to 1975, presenting challenges to the mill industry and threatening the town's existence.

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker is to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. today.

Pub Date: 8/21/98

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