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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 Baltimore.

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.


Historical Perspectives

National Road

Books on the Patapsco Valley

Historical Trails and Hikes

Civil War Trails

Interpretive Signage

Historical Display Panels


Library of Congress Local Legacy

Story Circles

Patapsco Players


Photographs by Peggy Fox

© 2013 — Patapsco Heritage Greenway