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2 Jan 2015

Maryland’s Howard County

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January 2, 2015 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  National Railroad

By Renée S. Gordon

Maryland has been unique in American history from the time of first European contact. It went unnoticed by the Spanish explorers and it was not until John Smith and 14 men set out on two voyages in 1608 that the waterways were sighted and documented. 

During these same years Catholics were being persecuted in England. Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth on April 27, 1570 and she instituted severe penalties against Catholics in retaliation immediately thereafter. The sufferings of the Catholics continued until Charles I and his Catholic Queen Henrietta Marie were crowned in 1625. 

George Calvert, the influential Lord Baltimore, converted to Catholicism that same year. He desired to resettle Catholics on some of his land in the New World and, after first attempting a colony in Newfoundland, he established a settlement in 1632. He named his new enterprise “Terra Mariae,” Maryland, after the queen. It was a 10,000,000-acre proprietorship with Calvert as the sole ruler of the land and its people with him being responsible for a rent of 20 percent of all precious metals located and two Native American arrows annually to the English crown. 

George died in 1632 and it was his son Cecil who continued to carry out his wishes the most important of which was that Maryland be a haven for Catholics with a strict policy of religious tolerance. The colony passed the Act Concerning Religion in 1649, the world’s first law to limit hate speech. This stance on tolerance would have far reaching implications and impact on the individuals who would settle there.

Howard County is ideally situated within a 30-minute drive of Baltimore and DC and offers great shopping, historic sites, scenic trails, outstanding accommodations and fine dining. The county was named in honor of John E. Howard, wealthy planter, Revolutionary War officer, Continental Congress delegate, Governor of Maryland and US Senator. Once part of western Anne Arundel County it became the Howard District in 1839. 

The Revolutionary Era highlighted a need for the new nation to have a viable transportation and communication link. Prior travel was accomplished largely via water routes and Indian trails but to facilitate the rapidly expanding territory a better road was necessary. George Washington, having traversed most of the old paths as a surveyor and military leader, was acutely aware of the importance of creating a national thruway that ran from east to west. Jefferson championed his vision and in 1805, Congress allocated $30,000 for the first federally financed road to run from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia. This portion, The Cumberland Road, generally followed Nemacolin’s Path, an old Native American Trail. In 1834, the road ended in Vandalia, Illinois due to lack of funding. Today, the Historic National Road stretches nearly 800-miles, beginning in Baltimore, crosses six states and parallels Route 40.

The 170-mile portion of the Maryland Historic National Road Scenic Byway is an outstanding drive that winds its way from the Chesapeake to the mountains, from cites to villages. Maryland has 62 wayside markers that interpret the stories of both those who built the road and those who traveled along it. The state also boasts the best-preserved original mile markers. Interestingly they were once 6-feet tall and today most are barely visible above ground.  There is much to see and do and Howard County features outstanding examples of the best the road has to offer.

Quaker brothers Andrew, John and Joseph Ellicott relocated from Bucks County, Pennsylvania to start a gristmill on the Patapsco River in 1772 in what became known as Ellicott Mills. They built the initial section of the road that would become the National Road. Through the industry of the brothers the mill prospered and a village grew up around it. The city’s name was changed to Ellicott City in 1867 and in 1973 it was designated a historic district.

Just as the beginnings of the Historic National Road can be found here, Ellicott City’s B&O Railroad Station Museum interprets the nation’s early railroad history. The museum is situated inside the oldest surviving railroad station in the country. This was the terminus of the first 13-miles of industrial railroad in the nation. In 1864, Union General Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur, marched down the National Road and took refuge in this station. Artifacts, photographs and models are displayed in two buildings, the 1830 depot and the 1885 freight house. Highlights of the museum are a replica horse-drawn passenger rail car and a 40-ft. model train display of the first 13-miles from Baltimore to Ellicott City. This is a National Historic Landmark (NHL).

Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park is the site of the Patapsco Female Institute founded in 1837 as a finishing school. A portion of the school has been restored and tours are available. This once opulent yellow granite edifice was one of the first southern female institutes and the view continues to inspire awe.  An effort was made to keep the school open during the Civil War but it was to far north for the southerners and to far south for the northerners. It closed in the late 1880s. Distressed student Annie Van Derlot reputedly haunts the institute.

The 1870 Thomas Isaac Log Cabin anchors one end of Main Street. Named after an early owner, the cabin was reconstructed and relocated to its present site. The settler’s house is used to interpret the growth and development of the region.

Ellicott City Colored School is a restored, one-room, schoolhouse built in 1880 for $2,000 by black veterans of the Civil War who donated money to finance it. It was the first public school for African American students in the county. It was always underfunded and water lines were not installed until 1950. Privately restored the school now serves as a genealogical center and the county’s African American history museum.

Ellicott City’s Main Street is lined with unique shops, antique stores and eclectic dining establishments. The city presents a series of special shopping events throughout the year including Christmas Midnight Madness and every third Thursday of the month a Girls Night Out.

Grille620 is a steak and seafood restaurant that showcases 16 rotating craft beers. The atmosphere is casual and the food is exceptional. Dishes include Togarashi Ahi Tuna, Gnocchi and Lobster and Honey Miso Salmon.

Portalli’s Italian Restaurant serves traditional and creatively inspired Italian dishes. The wine list was specially selected to accent the individual courses and the desserts are to die for. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Molly Welsh, an English servant, tipped over a bucket of milk and was sentenced for theft by the farm owner. She “called for the book” because if you could read the Bible you received a shorter sentence and was sent to the New World in 1683 as an indentured servant. In 1690, Molly purchased land and two slaves and established a tobacco farm. After freeing her slaves, Molly wed one of them, Bannaka, a Senegalese prince. They had four daughters, one of which wed a former slave. The Bannekers purchased 100-acres adjacent to Molly in 1737 and went there when Benjamin Banneker was 6-years old and Molly taught him to read and write. Banneker is most renowned for being part of Andrew Ellicott’s 1791 survey team that established the boundaries of Washington, DC. He was the nation’s first African American scientist, an astronomer, surveyor, mathematician, inventor and author of a best selling Farmer’s Almanac.

The 138-acre Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum is located in Oella, walking distance from Ellicott City. The Banneker Museum interprets his life story through a 10-minute orientation film, exhibits, and artifacts. A replica of Banneker’s cabin and Molly Bannaky’s House are on the grounds. This is an under-rated gem.

“From Banneker to Douglass: The Quest for Freedom and Equality” is currently on exhibition until February 28, 2015. The exhibit focuses on the efforts by Marylanders to achieve freedom and equality, regardless of race and gender, from 1730 to the 1850s.

The tiny town of Savage is named after Revolutionary War privateer John Savage. A 10-site tour includes Historic Savage Mill, added to the list of National Historic Places in 1974. A working textile mill until the 1940s, the complex consists of nine buildings constructed between 1816 and 1822 now turned into retail and dining venues. No antique lover should miss the 225 dealers showcasing their items in the Antique Center. No bargain hunter should miss Charity’s Closet, a resale boutique for men and women. All items are $5. and the proceeds go to the nonprofit organization Success in Style. 

Near the mill Union troops set up a blockade to capture Booth after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. It was believed that he might seek shelter with northern relatives.

Another highlight of a trip to Savage is the 160-ft. Bollman Truss Railroad Bridge, the oldest extant iron railroad bridge. It was constructed in the mid-1800s and relocated to Savage in 1887. Each year, the bridge is lit with more than 2,500 lights during the holidays visitors can walk beneath the canopy of lights. It is a wonderful way to start the season.

Howard County has always been a draw for individuals seeking a better life, both black and white, from the Quaker Ellicotts and Bannekers to developer James W. Rouse. Rouse envisioned an interracial community with housing available to all income levels and ample green spaces. After investigating various locations he settled on Howard County as the site of Columbia. By 1964 a physical plan was created by experts in fields of social development. 

A series of villages were constructed with schools and interfaith centers at the core and housing radiating out in concentric circles. In order to foster a sense of community each village has a community center and mailboxes are placed at the end of the road so people interact with neighbors. Residents began to occupy the first village, Wilde Lake, in 1967. Today there are 40 lakes and ponds, all man-made, 3,500-acres of parks and 100-miles of trails. Columbia has consistently been voted one of the top 10 places to live in the United States and, earlier in her career Oprah made her home there. Columbia will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2015 with a full schedule of activities and events.

The town center of Columbia, on 27-acre Lake Kittamaqundi, is the location of Frank Gehry’s first large commission. The modernist Rouse Company headquarters is unlike any of his later works. Haven on the Lake day spa is a $5.2-million, 27,000-sq. ft. health, wellness, healing and nutrition facility in the former headquarters that opened in mid-December. There are 65 classes weekly that include a yoga wall, water yoga and Pilates. Personalized acupuncture and spa treatments are available as well. Haven on the Lake uses all natural products and disposable tools.

The outdoor “People Tree” depicts 66 branches in the form of people reaching out to connect. The sculpture is fiberglass and gold leaf.

Petit Louis on the Lake is a short walk along the lakeside. Stepping inside this classic bistro is like a trip to France. The traditional French menu is exceptional, the décor cozy and inviting and the service is impeccable.

Columbia Mall is a favorite destination for travelers along the Baltimore/Washington Corridor. The mall features more than 200 high-end stores and smaller boutiques as well as an AMC Theater and numerous restaurants in more than 1,000,000-sq. ft. Upcoming sales and events are listed online.

The Iron Bridge Wine Company is an intimate restaurant serving world-class wines and a menu of delectable small plate entrees made from the freshest ingredients. The menu changes frequently so the experience is always surprising. Food allergies are accommodated.

Turf Valley Resort is much more than just accommodations. It is perfect for a girl’s getaway, conference, weddings or a romantic weekend. It is in the heart of Howard County and is a short drive from all the sites and attractions. Recreational amenities are numerous and include a 36-hole championship golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, soccer field, tennis, basketball and walking trail. 

The Spa at Turf Valley is outstanding. The signature treatment is the Swedish massage but a bevy of additional services feature overnight packages, Couple’s Seclusions, Facial Retreats and Body Treatments. Overnight packages include accommodations and a selection of other services. A visit is ideal as a birthday or Valentine’s Day gift.

The Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival is held from May 2, 2015 to May 3, 2015. The festival draws visitors from around the globe with over 270 vendors, working Sheepdogs, Sheep Shearing and food and entertainment.

You can’t help but love Howard County.

I wish you smooth travels!

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