Howard County is a successful melding of old and new, urban and rural, where the rolling green hills of the Piedmont meet the rocky fall line of the glaciers. It is home to over 243,000 people, a setting where one of the most modern cities in the world, Baltimore, sits side by side with Ellicott City, a city older than the republic itself.
Ellicott City celebrated its bicentennial in 1972, four years before the United States; while Columbia, the metropolitan center, was carved out of rolling Howard County farmland only thirty years ago.
Although the first settlers of Maryland inhabited the low lands near the Chesapeake Bay, Thomas Brown, known as the Patuxent Ranger, had traveled as far as Clarksville in Howard County by 1699. Around 1700 the Piedmont area and Howard County were being surveyed and settled. In 1707, a large land grant, Doughoregan Manor, was deeded to Charles Carroll, grandfather of the signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll III.
Farming was the way of life for the early settlers here, with tobacco the basis of the economy. However, commerce and industry were also significant early on, with the availability of water power along the rivers and the port at Elk Ridge Landing. Local iron ore and tobacco were shipped from the Landing along a navigable channel on the Patapsco River to the Chesapeake Bay.
Originally part of Anne Arundel County, the area was designated the Howard District in 1839, in honor of John Eager Howard, statesman, soldier, and fifth governor of Maryland. Howard County became the 21st of Maryland’s 23 counties in 1851, with the county seat at Ellicott Mills.
Many distinguished statesmen and leaders, including four Maryland governors have called Howard County home. George Howard was the 22nd governor and the son of John Eager Howard, the County’s namesake. T. Watkins Ligon was the 30th governor and is interred at St. Johns Episcopal Cemetery in Howard County. John Lee Carroll was the 37th governor. Edwin Warfield, Maryland’s 45th governor, is the only native-born Howard County state executive.
At the time of the American Revolution, Charles Carroll III wrote many articles denouncing the Stamp Act and defending the position of the colonists. Carroll was sent to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and while there signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
The County’s growth both past and present is closely associated with its location along major travel routes. The Patapsco River, old post roads and turnpikes, the B & O Railroad, major north-south and east-west highways have brought both settlers and commerce to the County.
Elkridge, located in the eastern most tip of Howard County, is probably the oldest settlement in the county. Elk Ridge Landing referred to the shipping docks and concentrations of population along the Patapsco River(navigable into the 1800’s), while Elk Ridge referred to a ridge line stretching west to Doughoregan Manor and south to Oakland Mills.
Planters brought their tobacco “hogsheads” (large barrels weighing as much as 900 pounds when filled) to the landing to load them aboard large sea vessels bound for England. The farmer would pack his crop into the hogshead and roll them with the help of mules or oxen to the wharves at the landing.
Second in importance to tobacco at Elk Ridge was the iron industry. When Captain John Smith first ventured up the Chesapeake Bay and the Patapsco River in 1608, he noted the red clay in the hills along the river. The colonial province’s assembly passed an act in 1719 to encourage iron manufacturing.
Caleb Dorsey began to mine ore along the Patapsco and was owner of Elk Ridge Furnace established in 1750. He helped establish the port of Elk Ridge to ship his products to England. With this, Elk Ridge Landing became second only to the port of Annapolis among Anne Arundel County seaports in the mid-1700’s.
The iron industry declined by the mid-1800’s due to an inconsistency in U.S. tariffs and competition abroad. After the iron works closed, the land along Deep Run spawned a grove of willows, which later provided a resource for another industry. The willow canes were harvested and woven into baskets in the early 1900’s.
Construction of the Thomas Viaduct began in Elk Ridge in 1833. When finished, the bridge stretched in a four degree arc from the Baltimore County side of the river 612 feet to the Howard County bank. Eight elliptical arches measuring approximately 58 ft. supported the 60 ft. high structure. The arches were high enough and wide enough for flood waters to rush through without destroying the bridge. The bridge was completed in two years and named for the first president of the B&O Railroad, Philip Thomas.
The great falls at the viaduct stopped passage of ships beyond this point. As the population grew along the river and its tributaries, distributing soil to farm and build homes and communities, the rivers began to silt. The river’s silt combined with the decline of iron and tobacco shipping, finally closed the port. Elk Ridge Landing became simply Elkridge.
Today’s Howard County is defined for many by Columbia, the planned community and city developed in the 60’s by the Rouse Company, which had acquired more than 21 square miles – one tenth of the county’s total land area.
In disclosing his company’s plans to a rural Howard County citizenry, James W. Rouse, Chairman of The Rouse Company Board of Directors, described his vision for the new city. Columbia, because it would be planned from the beginning, would avoid the sprawl, waste and inconveniences that have come to typify small scale development. The new city, he said, would provide jobs and recreation, shopping and health care, commercial and industrial development, along with a broad range of housing choices.
Long before construction began in Columbia, the city’s first planners met with a group of 18 educators and sociologists, all experts in their fields, to help determine what the city’s social objectives should be and how they might be reflected in the physical plan. Columbia was also thought of as a group of neighborhoods within villages, almost like a system of small towns, a city that is open to everyone-people of all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
Actually, by the time the land was acquired, the city itself still had no name. Columbia was chosen because it already appeared on roadmaps in the form of “Columbia Pike.” In addition, James Rouse said, “it embraced both Maryland and Washington, D.C. and, Columbia had kind of a hallelujah sound.”
From October 1963 to November 1964, company planners created a general plan for the city, detailing land uses, densities, development pace, and economics. In November 1964 the Columbia plan was presented to the people and government of Howard County, along with a request for a new kind of zoning which would permit higher residential densities and greater flexibility in mixing land uses. In August 1965, the County adopted a “New Town District” zoning ordinance and granted zoning for Columbia’s development.
Months later, in January 1966, construction began on Columbia’s first village, Wilde Lake. The first residents moved to the new city in 1967.
Columbia, a bold hope at ground-breaking in 1966, is now a city giving shape and meaning to its original goals–physical, social and economic. Columbia residents have reacted to the new environment with initiative and vitality, bringing in a broad and continually expanding list of education, recreation, entertainment, civic and political activities.