Community blossoms, then fades

Village: Hilton is a place of the imagination today, but once it was affectionately known as `Helltown,' where families lived on Columbia Pike near Ellicott's Mills.

150 Years of Howard History

April 17, 2001|By Joetta M. Cramm | Joetta M. Cramm,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A window on an interesting time and place in Howard County's history is provided by an article that appeared in The Sun on April 28, 1907.

It described a visit by an artist named Edwin Abbey, who came to Ellicott's Mills as a young boy to see members of his family in July 1864 at the height of the Civil War, when playing soldier was a major activity of the boys in town.

The boys would campaign to capture the nearby hilltop community of Hilton, better known to some as Helltown. They viewed Hilton as a "hotbed of junior secessionists" who wore the despised rebel gray with military caps and brass buttons.

But the boys never got close to success because of the husky country youths who lived in Hilton. The minute the Ellicott's Mills boys saw these superior forces, it was "about face."

One day, when the boys were playing in the cherry trees along Columbia Pike, Abbey sounded the alarm that the enemy was coming. As the others scrambled to retreat and hurried down the pike, Abbey started to laugh and told them he was joking.

Then, they formed into military ranks and marched toward Main Street. They met a group of Hilton girls returning home and sang a taunting song.

Immediately, the challenging boys were "annihilated" and learned that the only way to beat the Hilton girls was to make a hasty retreat. That ended their sieges against Helltown.

Helltown is one of a rich tapestry of towns and villages that have blossomed and, at times, faded over the 150 years of Howard County's existence.

From after the Civil War until the 1930s, Ellicott City was incorporated. Today, Howard operates with a county form of government and has no incorporated towns.

Still, some communities, such as Clarksville, Elkridge, Ellicott City, West Friendship, Glenwood and Lisbon, have grown with the recent burst of population. But many have vanished, including Hilton.

Hilton was one of the few villages in what is now known as Howard that was on the Griffith map of 1795. Hardly a handful of Howard countians could identify its location today.

The name came from "hill town," for it sat at the top of Columbia Pike coming from Ellicott City, near Montgomery Road. Today this area is almost totally commercial and is the location of the new Ellicott City fire station.

It's not clear just how Hilton gained the nickname, "Helltown." Even the county's land records referred to Hilton by this descriptive name.

"Search Enlarged" is the early patent name given the land that included Hilton. Henry Pierpont patented "The Search" of 98 acres in 1757. He enlarged it in 1782 to 112 acres. (A patent later became a deed to the property.) Henry Jr., a shoemaker, lived in Hilton in 1798 near Jacob Reade, a blacksmith.

After the Ellicotts settled in the Patapsco Valley, the Quakers in the new mill community traveled to Sandy Springs to religious meetings. The roadway that developed (now Old Columbia Pike) was first referred to as the road to Sandy Springs. The outgrowth was the development of a crossroads community where the new road crossed Montgomery Road, also referred to as the road to Frederick.

Before his death in 1788, Pierpont sold some land. His heirs also sold some of the property. In 1808, Thomas Davis bought 80 acres.

In the State Gazette in 1852, Hilton was one of the 11 villages in Howard County, and it was described as a small group of homes. Hilton was not recognized in later directories.

In 1860, a row of houses stood in Hilton along the east side of Columbia Pike. The owners included Orpha Young, with a store and blacksmith shop; Grafton Ray, wheelwright; William Davis, Mrs. M. A. Davis and R. Harding. The same families remained into the next century. (The youths of these families were the adversaries who defeated the "soldier" boys from Ellicott's Mills in 1864.) The 1878 Hopkins atlas showed Thomas Gosnell also at Hilton with a general merchandise store.

Land records show that by the 20th century, the land called Hilton was passed to heirs and was sold to other owners.

By the 1940s and 1950s, oil companies made the purchase that produced the current cluster of service stations in the neighborhood. These stations provide for the vehicles of the day, as the wheelwright and the blacksmith did in the 19th century.

Joetta M. Cramm, a local historian, has researched documents in the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis.

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