Jean O. Hannon, preservationist who played key role in revitalization of historic Ellicott City

November 03, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Jean O. Hannon, a longtime Howard County preservationist who played a major role in the revitalization of Ellicott City and the establishment of its historic district in the mid-1970s, died Oct. 27 at St. Agnes Hospital of complications from a fall at her home. She was 82.

"I like things that are old," Mrs. Hannon told The Sun when she stepped down in 1994 after serving on Howard County's Historic District Commission for eight years. "If you don't know what's happened before, you don't know what's going to happen in the future."

Mrs. Hannon, who moved to Ellicott City from Catonsville in 1950, became interested in the historic preservation of the Patapsco River town.

In 1959, Mrs. Hannon and her Cross Country Garden Club entered a community cleanup contest sponsored by Sears & Roebuck Co.

The next year, she supervised "Paint Ellicott City," an effort that painted Main Street storefronts and cleaned up trash.

"I was in charge of it. Started it. Organized it," Mrs. Hannon told The Sun in a 2006 interview when she was presented the first Senator James Clark Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award from Preservation Howard County.

"We painted ... and refreshed buildings and tried to make it more attractive. Until that time, the county was thinking very seriously of moving out of Ellicott City, and then we spruced it up, we got some antique shops and made it more viable," she said.

For its cleanup efforts, Mrs. Hannon's group won a $500 prize from Sears, and the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage presented it with a check for a $1,000.

They used the money to open the Old Line Shop, Ellicott City's first antique shop on Main Street, at a time when merchants were fleeing to the new Normandy Shopping Center on U.S. 40.

"We opened the antique store in an effort to get people onto Main Street," Mrs. Hannon said in the 1994 interview.

In 1962, her good friend Enalee Bounds opened Ellicott's Country Store, the second shop to open on Main Street.

"That was our first big break," Mrs. Hannon said in the interview. "We were hoping we could bring in someone like that."

The shop is still owned and operated by Mrs. Bounds.

"It was Jean's idea to start the Old Line Shop, which was a consignment shop, and she got a lot of the old Howard County families to donate things," Mrs. Bounds said. "And the money they made in the shop they used to clean up Main Street."

Mrs. Hannon founded historic Ellicott Mills in the 1960s, and later merged the organization into Historic Ellicott City Inc., of which she had been a founder.

"People didn't have the vision that Jean did," Mrs. Bounds said.

After Tropical Storm Agnes flooded Ellicott City in 1972, Mrs. Hannon led the way to its restoration.

She organized the town's first walking tours and helped establish the city's historic district in the mid-1970s.

Mrs. Hannon drew the boundaries and cataloged and photographed the city's historic structures. She submitted the historical material she had gathered for review by the Maryland Historical Trust and the National Register of Historic Places.

"There was consternation, and not everyone was in support of what we were trying to do," said Roland A. Bounds, an Ellicott City lawyer who is married to Enalee Bounds.

"But she loved Ellicott City and when you're hooked on preservation, you're hooked on preservation," he said. "She was the key person in the transformation of Ellicott City into what it is today."

Mr. Bounds applauded her friend's ability to bring together disparate groups and their attitudes.

In addition to preservation work, Mrs. Hannon, an artist, designed the official Howard County flag.

She incorporated the red and white from the Maryland flag and added a sheaf of golden wheat in the flag's upper left-hand corner that represents the county's agricultural heritage.

A green outline of the county set inside a golden triangle in the lower right-hand corner shows the county's geographic location in relation to Baltimore, Washington and New York.

In an interview with Columbia Magazine, Mrs. Hannon said it was a thrill to see her flags flying all over the county, "and to know that some contribution I've made will be here long after I'm gone."

Jean Otto was born in Baltimore and raised in Ten Hills. She was a 1943 graduate of Catonsville High School and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1947.

"I married her the day after she graduated," said her husband of 61 years, Philip A. Hannon, former owner of the J. Norman Otto Co., a food service equipment company.

Mrs. Hannon taught speech at the University of Maryland in the late 1940s, and from 1962 to 1982 wrote a weekly column and was the political cartoonist for Howard County's Central Maryland News.

A memorial service for Mrs. Hannon will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Harry Witzke Funeral Home, 4112 Old Columbia Pike, in Ellicott City.

Also surviving are two sons, Steve Hannon and Mark Hannon, both of Ellicott City; and three grandchildren.

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