New chapter in town's history

Woman helps to update book about Ellicott City written by her mother

January 02, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Like the historic homes, churches and buildings it profiles, the late Celia M. Holland's written history of Ellicott City has withstood the passage of time.

Demand has continued for used copies of the book -- first published in 1970 and long out of print. So last month, Historic Ellicott City Inc. published an updated edition of the popular resource.

"We hope this book lets people realize how special this place is," said Janet P. Kusterer, executive director of Historic Ellicott City. She updated the volume with Holland's daughter, Charlotte T. Holland, the preservation group's vice president.

In Ellicott City, Maryland: Mill Town, U.S.A., Celia Holland delved into the town's past through interviews with local residents.

She organized the book around 35 of its historic buildings, from landmarks such as the B&O Railroad Station and the Patapsco Female Institute to small cabins and historic homes around the edges of the town.

Celia Holland, who died at age 82 in 1993, was a Sun features writer before she married and had children. She wrote throughout her life and became editor of a national Catholic magazine, Trisagion.

She spent six years in the 1940s and 1950s living at Oakley Farm, near Lisbon. It belonged to her husband's family and "that is where she developed her interest in Howard County history," Charlotte Holland said.

After the family moved to University Park, Celia Holland wrote more than 50 articles about Howard County history for local newspapers. Those articles formed the basis for Ellicott City, Maryland: Mill Town, U.S.A. and another book about Howard County.

Celia Holland wrote in the preface to Ellicott City that living in Howard County spurred her interest in "the quaint but sadly neglected little town that serves as county seat."

After much consideration, she "finally concluded that with a little publicity and a good `shot in the arm,' Ellicott City could indeed survive and reclaim its former position of historic significance and prestige."

In the three decades after Ellicott City was published, tropical storms and fires ravaged parts of the town, and development changed the surrounding countryside from farmland to suburbia. But preservation efforts gained momentum, and the town's identity became linked with its historic flavor.

Several years ago, Charlotte Holland and Kusterer decided to publish an updated edition of the book, volunteering to provide new text and overseeing all aspects of publication.

Celia Holland's son, James C. Holland of Shepherdstown, W.Va., donated the use of the copyright, and Historic Ellicott City Inc. will receive all proceeds. The new version retains Celia Holland's words detailing the features and ownership of each structure and recounting many stories about local families and community life.

A visit by several Indian chiefs to the town in 1807, the rude actions of a group of Yankee soldiers at St. Paul's Church during the Civil War and the ghostly noises heard for years in the historic home named Lilburn are among the tales.

It also includes paragraphs detailing changes made since the first volume. Charlotte Holland and Kusterer spent 3 1/2 years revisiting every site, often learning about restoration efforts in great detail, Holland said.

"That was wonderful fun," said Holland, a retired program director for the Maryland Department of the Environment. "There were some I'd never set foot in before."

Most owners were very welcoming, Kusterer said. "It seemed like people ... decided to preserve [the buildings] and are willing to share them," she said.

Charles and Jo Ann Cook have owned Talbott's Last Shift -- a more than 150-year-old house on Old Columbia Pike -- since before the first book was published.

Jo Ann Cook, who grew up in the area, said the house always fascinated her. She and her husband bought it in 1959, and "it was in terrible shape," she said. The couple rehabilitated it one room at a time, doing the majority of the work themselves.

In the updated version of the book, the authors describe how the Cooks replaced windows and shutters with reproductions after a fire, added baseboard heat and a fireplace, and installed frieze board on the outside.

"We love the house," Jo Ann Cook said. "We're lucky we're able to maintain it and keep the 2 acres of ground."

Enalee Bounds also appears in the original book, which was written a few years after she became the proprietor, with her mother and sister, of Ellicott's Country Store on Main Street.

Bounds has spent more than 40 years running the store, which has undergone renovations and has been rebuilt after two fires.

As a local history buff, board member of Historic Ellicott City Inc. and editor of a newspaper about local history, Bounds said she has kept a copy of the original book close at hand.

"I refer to it quite often when anybody has a question," she said.

Bounds praised the new volume, of which she has been selling two or three copies a day.

Besides Historic Ellicott City's mission to preserve buildings, "We want to do these kinds of things so future generations really have the true history," she said.

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