Replica-mill plans near reality

Group wants to revisit the history of Ellicott City

March 02, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

Historic Ellicott City's plans to build a replica mill in the former mill town appear to be on solid ground. The County Council next week is expected to approve leasing a sliver of land along the Tiber River to the nonprofit preservation organization.

For several years, Historic Ellicott City has been discussing the idea of building a replica mill that would serve as an educational center focusing on the history of milling and Ellicott City, as well as the group's headquarters .

The mill project seemed like a positive use for the land, which records indicate is in an area historically called Moonshine Hollow, said John Byrd, chief of parks and program services in the county Department of Recreation and Parks.

"I think it ties into our general mission for interpretation and heritage orientation of the town," he said. "It may get more people aware of the Tiber watershed."

The 0.058 of an acre directly across Old Columbia Pike from the Tiber River Tavern -- about a block south of Main Street behind the old theater building that now houses Precious Gifts -- was purchased by the county after a furniture warehouse there burned down in 1992.

County plans to build senior housing on the spot fell through, and the Department of Recreation and Parks acquired the parcel as open space about seven or eight years ago, Byrd said.

The Recreation and Parks Board first discussed a plan to lease the land to Historic Ellicott City in 2005. The proposal made its way last month to the County Council, where it received no criticism.

The parks department is proposing to lease the land to the organization free for several years while the group develops plans and builds the mill, Byrd said. Future rent payments will be tied to any money the group makes when the center is open.

"One of our objectives is to bring schoolchildren down there to see why Ellicott City was originally [named] Ellicott Mills," said Charlotte Holland, the preservation group's president. The group also is planning offices for its staff, educational displays, meeting rooms and a much-needed public restroom for Ellicott City visitors.

"In the past, we've wanted to have lectures and other programs," said Janet Kusterer, the nonprofit group's executive director. "We'd like to sponsor a place where somebody can come and talk about historical stuff."

Conceptual plans include a pedestrian bridge over the Tiber River connecting the bottom level of a two-story mill to the area in front of the Howard County Tourism office, where there is a public parking lot.

Members also want a large water wheel -- possibly rotated by an independent water source -- to illustrate how mills worked. It would not be in contact with the river, Holland said.

The project moved to the forefront of the organization's agenda when the group handed over management of the B&O Railroad Museum: Ellicott City Station in 2006. The structure is owned by the county, but the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore now directs its daily operations.

Historic Ellicott City does have a drawing and a model -- made by volunteers -- that suggest design options but has no official construction plans.

"We didn't want to hire a firm and spend that money without knowing if the project is possible," Holland said.

The group is also awaiting the results of a countywide floodplain study so construction plans can place the structure -- particularly the water wheel -- where it will not pose a hazard during a flood.

Kusterer said now that a site has been found, "our challenge is to raise the money."

The group plans to use proceeds from its Decorator Show House for the mill project and will seek additional donations.

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