Telling the Story
Captain John Smith first explored the Patapsco River in 1608. By the
1690s, settlers were cultivating the Patapsco Valley. Early development
in the Valley centered on tobacco and the production of iron in the
vicinity of present day Elkridge. Production of both of these commodities
for export from Elk Ridge Landing to Britain and East Indies ports used
up the Valley's iron and forest resources. The resulting erosion silted
in the port of Elk Ridge Landing and the port was moved downstream to
Jonathan and George Ellicott were instrumental in changing the region
from tobacco to wheat farming with the introduction of fertilizers and
created a new industry grinding wheat into flour. The population followed
the mills the Ellicott family established upriver to present day Ellicott
City. A highway and railroad system was developed largely to get products
from there to Baltimore's markets and harbor.
From the early 1700s to the 1860s the Valley was heavily industrialized.
The rapidly falling water along the Patapsco River provided an abundance
of power for a wide variety of mills. In 1868, a devastating flood hit
the Patapsco Valley and eliminated virtually all of its industries.
The possibility of additional floods, the invention of the steam engine,
and the generally poor national economic situation prevented many mills
and their associated communities from rebuilding along the Patapsco.
The Ellicott’s were instrumental in rebuilding what today is called
Ellicott City, even though it eventually cost them their fortune.
In the early 1900s the State of Maryland established a forest and parks
system largely to reestablish the forest in the Patapsco Valley. That
beginning has resulted in the present day Patapsco Valley State Park
that now encompasses over 15,000 forested acres. The flood associated
with Hurricane Agnes in 1972 removed almost all of the remaining evidence
of earlier mill sites from the Valley.
Books on the Patapsco Valley
Historical Trails and Hikes
Civil War Trails
Library of Congress Local
Photographs by Peggy Fox