MHT File Photo
Ellicott's Mills Historic District
Ellicott City, , Baltimore County
The Ellicott’s Mills Historic District (Baltimore County) is located on the east bank of the Patapsco River, opposite Ellicott City (Howard County). The Ellicotts' Mills district relates to the industrial operations of the Ellicott family from the 1770s through the mid-19th century. The district consists of the sites of historic buildings, an 18th century building, a section of an 18th century mill incorporated in a 20th century factory, a 19th century tavern, 19th century workers housing, and an 1860 villa, united by the major east-west route in Maryland during the early 19th century, the old National Pike (formerly Fells Road, now Frederick Road). The mammoth multi-story Wilkins-Rogers Company flour plant exists at the southern end of the district on a site where grain products have been produced since the Revolution. Constructed of concrete, brick, and glass, the present plant is located on the site of the 1792 Ellicott Flour Mill, the first merchant flour mill in the United States. A portion of the old mill is located in the power house at the southern end of the complex. The original (1792) mill was located downstream from George Ellicott’s house with its gable end facing the Patapsco. It measured 36 x 100 feet. Attached to the west side of the flour mill was a saw mill measuring 14 x 60 feet. This complex was superseded by a second Ellicott mill of 1809, then by the Patapsco Mill (c. 1830s). The mill was rebuilt in 1906 and added to in 1921. The present building dates from after a fire which occurred in 1941. Traces of the race which powered the mill remain at the intersection of Old Frederick Road and Oella Avenue. Opposite the mill was the George Ellicott House (1798), now moved to the east side of MD 144. It is a two-story five-bay structure constructed of granite cut into rectangular blocks and laid in even courses. A 1 1/2-story wing once extended perpendicularly from the rear elevation, but this was not moved across the road with the rest of the house, following a flood caused by Hurricane Eloise in 1975. A similar 18th century stone house once stood to the north, but this building, the Jonathan Ellicott House, was destroyed by the floods cause by Hurricane Agnes in June of 1972. In 1859, a two-story frame house was built on the brow of a hill overlooking the flour mill. This house, named The Alhambra, was built in Italianate style by John Ellicott, and is reminiscent of villa designs published by William Ranlett and Andrew Jackson Downing in the 1850s. In 1895 the Ellicott City Electric Railway Company laid its trolley tracks across the property of the Alhambra. The company made a remarkably deep cut through the hillside 60' from the house in order to graduate the change in elevation down to the Patapsco riverbed. Although trolley service was discontinued in 1955, the 33' right-of-way and the deep cut remain. Other structures within the district include The McLaughlin house, a three-story stone and brick tavern; the site of the Ellicott Iron works, a rolling and slitting mill established in 1806 which was replaced in the mid 19th century by a textile concern which united a four-story granite mill with a tower on the site, none of which are extant; and a long row of stone workers' houses called Granite Hill after the textile factory.
The significance of the Ellicotts' Mills Historic District is derived from its history as the center of the industrial operations begun by the Ellicott family in the 18th century and as the site of continuous industry from that time to the present. The district offers a broad range of opportunities for interpreting the history and industrial development of the Ellicott family. The Ellicott brothers, founders of the Patapsco Flour Mills in the 1770s, were among the first men in America to practice merchant milling on a large scale. The mills were built on a remarkably large scale for their time, equipped at first with the largest machinery for milling as practiced in the colonial period, they were added onto with a number of Ellicott improvements. The Ellicotts were among the first merchant millers in the country to adopt the Oliver Evans (1755-1819) patented system of mill automation (1789), and they appreciated the cost-effectiveness of the Evans system of mechanical conduits for speeding the flow of grain and flour through the plant, untouched by human power from wheat storage bin to packed flour barrel. The Ellicotts perhaps gave the final push that ended the dominance of tobacco in the agriculture of Northern and Western Maryland, not only by providing an outlet for crops of wheat, but also by their missionary efforts to persuade farmers, including Charles Carroll of Carrollton, to specialize in wheat, rather than tobacco, as the main money crop. They were certainly a factor in shifting to a money economy, and later generations of the family are found in banking. The Ellicott Mills were in a location sufficiently prosperous to serve as the terminus of the first railroad to go into service in America (the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad), and the subsequent history of the site is a reflection of the general history of the eastern milling industry in its battle with floods and fire, its change from owner-operated plants to investor-owned enterprises, its efforts to compete with the massive influx of flour from Minneapolis and other western centers, and its eventual decline as a dominant flour manufacturing center.