One of my favorite day trips has always been shopping in historic Ellicott City, in Howard County, Maryland. Last year, a terrible flood roared through the historic downtown, taking lives and destroying businesses. It looked impossible to recover, but if you’ve ever met anyone from Ellicott City you’d know that couldn’t be true. This community came together to rebuild their beautiful town.
Rebuilding Olde Ellicott City
Local business owner Randy Marriner and his family joined the efforts. Their extremely popular English Gastropub Manor Hill Tavern in Olde Ellicott City, features craft beers brewed at Manor Hill Brewery. Manor Hill Brewery is located on the grounds of the Marriner’s farmhouse in the rolling hills of Howard County. Their beer is “damn fine” says Marriner (he’s right, it’s outstanding). He says that when a restaurant in downtown Ellicott City was up for sale, the family realized “this location would be a great opportunity to showcase our beer.”
“But thirty days after closing on this restaurant, there was a rainstorm,” Marriner recalls. “The Tiber River received 6.5 inches of rain in 1.5 hours. Then that river came down this street and came down this hill. Then what we thought was going to be an easy open, turned out to be a historic building that had to be taken down to the studs.”
The building, like many in Old Ellicott City, was built in 1840. Manor Hill Tavern is one of four buildings cobbled together called Taylors Row. They had been part of a department store, and Manor Hill Tavern was a former livery for the horses that delivered products to shoppers. Stories like these are part of what make Ellicott City notable, and this city has a long and fascinating history. The town is named for two Quaker brothers who settled here in 1772, when Andrew and Joseph Ellicott established a flour mill on the Patapsco River. Scientist/surveyor Benjamin Banneker lived and worked here with the Ellicott brothers. The community expanded in importance, when in 1822, the B&O Railroad laid tracks connecting Baltimore to downtown Ellicott City. Over the centuries, illustrious visitors have visited Ellicott City, including Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Washington Irving, H.L. Mencken, Henry Clay, Davey Crockett, Annie Oakley and Robert E. Lee.
Ellicott City is a Shopping Mecca
Bordering Historic Ellicott City are the Patapsco River and Tiber Creek. Rocky granite cliffs create the valley in-between that is Main Street. The town has had a long history of devastating floods. But you might forget about this interesting geographical fact when you walk down Main Street, because there are just so many great stores beckoning you inside. Some businesses in Ellicott City have not reopened yet, but many have, and they are as delightful as ever.
Ellicott City’s historic downtown is still a shopping mecca. Stroll down Main Street, and you’ll find independent merchants with eclectic collections—everything from handmade jewelry to vintage clothing. My favorite is A Divaz Boutique, where you receive personalized service as you peruse the sophisticated, trendy clothing and accessories. The Artists Gallery is a showcase for local and regional art. They have pieces in every medium. I also love Bear Fox Babe, a women’s clothing store with standout designers and a stylish attitude.
A perfect example of the upbeat whimsical atmosphere in Ellicott City is the Forget Me Not Factory. Built into the rocky hills on the main street, the store has three floors of gardening supplies, toys and costumes. Included in your shopping experience is entertainment by Barry the Bubbleman (he’s usually around on weekends). The store carries a wide selection of fairies, tea sets and dolls—a little girl’s dream shop.
Sweet Cascades Chocolatier creates fine handmade chocolates using regional ingredients like Old Bay and locally raised bacon. Gramp’s Attic Books‘ motto is: “Get Lost in the Stacks!” This store has a diverse collection of used, rare and hard to find books (call for store hours before you go). Ladies don’t miss Sweet Elizabeth Jane; like hitting Anthropologie without the high price tags. Another memorable shop is Junk Girl, a hipster boutique with hand crafted furniture and clothes. The friendly women who own this shop have a great eye for kitschy collectibles and vintage clothing.
After all that retail therapy, settle in for a glass of wine at The Wine Bin, which besides having a huge selection of wines under $20, sells adorable gifts and hosts tasting events. If beer’s more to your liking, visit the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. They have lots of small plates and appetizers perfect for sharing.
Check Out Savage Mill
Just down the road from Ellicott City is Savage Mill, where you’ll find another retail extravaganza. This was a former textile mill built over top of the Savage River. It has several unique retailers selling books, games, makeup, clocks, jewelers, writing utensils, cycling supplies, bakery and beer—more than 200 antique dealers, artists and craftsmen. If all that shopping makes you hungry, have lunch on Rams Head Pub’s outdoor deck overlooking the river. Sunday from 4-10 pm is $5 burger night. It’s the perfect place to end your perfect summer weekend.
July 30, 2017 was the one-year anniversary of the massive flood that destroyed parts of Old Ellicott City. The residents and businesses have worked steadily for a year to rebuild this thriving historic community. To find out more visit Old Ellicott City website.
Food for Thought MidAtlantic Travel Restaurant Reviews Travel antique shopping Cambridge Maryland clothing boutiques Ellicott City historical railroad housewares Howard County museums Savage Mill shopping vintage stores wine shops
Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.