Treasure Hunting in Ellicott City


Ellicott City was founded in the late 18th century as a Mill town. It's a short drive from Baltimore City towards DC. Living in the Mid Atlantic, I'm pretty used to mill towns, little time capsules scattered in the hills (think Harper's Ferry and countless others). The many rivers and tributaries that feed the Chesapeake Bay fueled mills of all sorts. The products of the mills were carried all over the globe by way of the railways such as the B&O Railroad that crisscrossed the country and by the ships coming to and from the bustling port of Baltimore. That history is worn on the face of the town, where the passage of time is not immediately apparent. 

For much of my childhood my mom lived nearby and we would drive through the two block downtown to run errands. I didn't really understand how drastic the change in elevation was in the area. I was amazed when the radio would splutter when we went down into the valleys and then go completely silent when the still-active flour mill came into view continuing as we rode through town. Such a simple but powerful effect of topography made me look up from whatever I was doing and see the different types of buildings, and the maze of telephone and electric wires that dissect the sky. It was the closest thing to a model train town I witnessed as a child. The bank looked like a bank, the department store looked like a department store; the purpose of every building evident by its facade. The other magical element, born of necessity no doubt, was that all the buildings are built into the stone cliffs. To this day many of the back walls of the stores are a solid rock wall!

When Lili and I were in college we were some of the only locals in our group of friends. We would take people on a day trip to Ellicott City as a way to show them what a great and diverse place we lived. It is close enough to the (at times) dreary city that newcomers were totally amazed that this hidden gem could exist. If guys have a go-to first date restaurant, an outing to Ellicott City was our friend equivalent!

We hadn't been for some years now so we thought a weekend jaunt was in the cards. When we were in high school the entire town was antique stores, but on this recent trip I was kind of sad to see them being slowly taken over by higher-end antique-esque stores with mass produced gifts and home goods. I can imagine that the rise of internet shopping has something to do with it. Sellers can probably get better sales to niche audiences online, in addition to smaller overhead without a physical location. Last year saw the close of the last anchor antique mall, Taylor's. There are a handful of smaller stores and we were still able to come home with some good finds. Change is unavoidable and Ellicott City sure has seen its share in over 200 years! I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this charming town and will be interested to see how it continues to evolve.