Getting to know Howard County

May 30, 2011

Set squarely between the nation’s capital and Baltimore, Howard County is a well-blended mix of the bucolic, the urban and the suburban.

Spread out over 160,640 acres are sights as diverse as a quaint historic district in Ellicott City, high-tech research parks, a mall with more than 200 stores, rivers and forests in two state parks, a lakefront city center, horse farms and fields dotted with sheep and cattle, an antiques and art center at Historic Savage Mill and two 14-screen movie theaters.

The county can boast of such accomplishments as having the first national railroad terminus, one of the largest planned cities in the country and a reputation as America’s heartland of soccer.

Demographically, the county is considered affluent and well-educated. With a population of 287,085 Howard has a median household income of $101,867, the highest in the state and among the highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 57 percent of residents over 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher.


The county’s first settler, a Puritan named Adam Shipley, was granted a home near the Patapsco River in what is now Elkridge by Lord Baltimore in 1687.

Farms, many planted with tobacco, sprouted along the rivers, and the county’s farmers became its leaders. The family of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, acquired 10,000 acres of fertile fields and forest in the early 1700s.

Once farms were established, mills for cotton, lumber and corn, and furnaces for the iron dredged from the river banks were built. The Ellicott brothers, Quakers from Pennsylvania, arrived in 1772 with a mission to convert farmers from tobacco to wheat. They settled in a hollow on the Patapsco River and sparked a vast number of changes in the county.

Through their leadership, a road from Baltimore to Frederick was started — appropriately named Frederick Road. The Ellicott brothers also aided the beginning of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, with its first terminus in Ellicott City.

During the Civil War, Howard County sent its sons to both Confederate and Union armies — splitting families and communities. A portion of the underground railroad runs along Route 1 to Baltimore.

In the 19th century, the county became a haven for wealthy Baltimore and Washington residents who built summer homes, searching for relief in the fresh country air during the hot summer months.


Until the 1950s, the county didn’t change much from its established agrarian lifestyle. It was then that suburban development — restaurants, motels and shops — began to appear along main arteries of the county, attracting more residents.

In 1965, the county accepted the ambitious plans of developer James Rouse to buy 14,000 acres and build a planned city of 110,000 people. Rouse’s vision included the values of racial, religious and economic diversity and harmony, as well as a convenient and aesthetically pleasing place to live and work.

His plan included 10 villages, each with its own shopping area, recreation sites and school. Business parks would fringe the city, and a commercial downtown area would center around an indoor shopping mall and lakefront entertainment center.

Today, Columbia boasts more than 120 eateries, along with lakefront festivals and Merriweather Post Pavilion, an amphitheater that draws some 250,000 people to concerts each year. The Columbia Association, the city’s quasi-government organization, runs a network of pools, gyms and recreation sites.

The city’s core is poised for a redevelopment. A 30-year master plan to bring up to 5,500 new homes and 6 million square feet of office and retail space along with new cultural amenities won approval in February 2010. Developer Howard Hughes Corp. intends to break ground in 2012.

As Columbia has grown and developed, so have surrounding areas of Ellicott City, Elkridge, Glenelg, Clarksville, Glenwood and Maple Lawn. Howard’s population grew by 32 percent between 1990 and 2000 and another 16 percent between 2000 and 2010, Census data shows.

The thriving atmosphere for housing, jobs, places of worship, schools, parks, shopping centers and recreational areas make Howard County a top-notch place to live and work.

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