Center tells city's story Mill town's heritage explained in exhibit and self-guided tour

Offers 'a quick overview'

Ribbon cutting set for 10 a.m. today at former courts building

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.

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 is intended to provide residents and visitors with an 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 booms in the historic district -- 22,000 tourists visited the area last year -- 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 a comprehensive understanding of the town's beginnings.

"This is

the only place that provides this kind of history," she 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.

"It is important to know that the Ellicott family and the industry that they created is the reason why this town exists," Kusterer said. "You can't just get this history anywhere."

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 Ellicott City's existence.

It was damage to the historic district from the 1972 floods caused by Hurricane Agnes that served as the impetus for residents to organize Historic Ellicott City Inc.

The nonprofit organization has 300 members and raises funds to restore and renovate historic buildings.

This year, the group raised the $5,000 needed to turn the county-owned court records building into the Heritage Orientation Center.

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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