Ellicott City on the National Road in Maryland

Ellicott City, Maryland, was founded in 1772 around the Ellicott brothers’ flour mill. It later became a transportation hub as the National Road passed through it and the B&O Railroad laid the nation’s first miles of commercial track to it. Here’s where the two roads intersect:

Ellicott City, MD

A Berkeley professor named George Stewart spent a good chunk of 1949 and 1950 driving US 40 across the United States. The old US routes were the only way to move around the country then, and so a road trip meant taking in the towns and countryside along the way. Stewart wrote a book about his trips called US 40: A Cross Section of the United States of America. He shared 97 photos he took along the way, and one of them was in Ellicott City. Here’s his photo.


My sons and I passed through Ellicott City one crisp morning. Here’s my photo of the same spot.

Ellicott City, MD

It’s not that nothing has changed in Ellicott City in 60 years, but that the town is well aware of its history and has taken pains to maintain its historic downtown. It has done so despite several floods, the worst of which were in 1868 and 1972, and three fires that destroyed many downtown businesses. The town even thrived after US 40 was rerouted north of downtown sometime after Stewart’s book. You see, Ellicott City has changed from a solid working-class town to one of the wealthiest communities in the nation. Perhaps it has successfully leveraged its history.

Ellicott City, MD

I would have loved to linger, but we had to keep moving if we were to make Wheeling before dark. I did slow way down as we drove away to shoot this great neon sign. I wonder if it still lights up every night.

Ellicott City, MD

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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7 responses to “Ellicott City on the National Road in Maryland”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Too bad it lost the streetcars! They look extremely natural in that earlier shot. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      As my sons and I stood near the rail bridge so I could take photos, a man and his small daughter out for a stroll stopped to say that the old streetcar path heading out of town (apparently it diverged from the NR east of town) had become a rail trail.

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        Ah, the only decent use for former trail ROWs. They’re some of the best trails. I bet the people love it. :)

  2. Dani Avatar

    I find it unfortunate how towns/cities lose sight of the historic value of their native buildings and landmarks only to be replaced with more modern architecture and facades. Only one corner of downtown Brownsburg’s main intersection remains. The other three have given way to drugstores and a bank.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Towns experiencing growth frequently lose their historic buildings, because modern needs often are perceived not to fit into the old architecture. If Brownsburg had not become an Indy bedroom community, then…

  3. fuguestateknits Avatar

    Hey Jim, sorry you all couldn’t linger here. It’s funny – I live in Ellicott City, but never really checked to see if that neon sign still lights up. I would bet it doesn’t, but I’m going out to a meeting tonight and I will check for you:)
    Take care and thanks for the blog entry! Your blog is very interesting!
    Joan G from Ellicott City, “Merlin”

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by, Joan! I know I take my town for granted and don’t always see its best features. I sure enjoyed my brief visit to Ellicott City, though. I hope to make another Maryland National Road trip one day, but plan a whole week for it so I can spend more time at each stop.

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