Founded in 1772, Ellicott City is one of Maryland’s many historic towns found along the scenic back roads. Located just about an hour’s drive north of Washington, DC and maybe half an hour west of Baltimore, it makes an ideal day trip from either city.
Any free afternoon that we can grab a couple of bottles of water, a few snacks and hit the road to wander aimlessly is a win. It’s great way to tune out for a few hours and take in the surrounding countryside, never quite knowing what you’ll discover along the way. The back roads of both Maryland and Virginia offer landscapes right out of a Norman Rockwell coffee table book. Just look at this 30-second clip we took while driving on Folly Quarter Road just outside of Ellicott City.
Park the Car
When exploring a small town for the first time, we usually drive through the town center once or twice to get a feel for where we are. Next, we park the car. Time to get out of the car and let our feet lead the way. Technically, this was our second visit to Ellicott City, but the first time was a few years ago and it was just a quick pass through. Doesn’t really count in our book.
Ellicott City is one of those charming little historic towns where the streets are lined with boutique shops, local eateries and wall murals. The city has a long history of being a mill town. The three Ellicott brothers founded the mill in the late 1700’s and as a result the town became one of the largest milling towns on the east coast. The town also happens to be nestled in a valley between the Tiber and the Patapsco Rivers, which makes it all the more picturesque, but also prone to flooding. While the surrounding boundaries include a population of over 65,000, the historic center feels as if it’s the heart of the city, which I’m guessing it is. It’s a good feeling.
The Oldest Train Station in the United States
It’s a grand honor, isn’t it? The oldest train station in the United States. It’s now a popular museum in Ellicott City for train enthusiasts, and everyone else. The B&O Railroad (Baltimore & Ohio) train station is actually a national historic monument. Who knew? We sure didn’t, but we very much enjoyed our visit to the museum. Completed in 1831, the station was the first stop on the B&O line, just 13 miles from Baltimore. Imagine the excitement of traveling by train in the 1800’s, if only for thirteen miles.
The museum has two floors and the tour is self-guided. The first floor has displays of the station master’s living quarters. The second floor has the ticket window, telegraph desk, the men’s waiting room (where did the women wait?) and various historical displays and stories, as well as the car house, where the smoke stack chimneys are in place.
Once outside, visitors can tour a retrofitted caboose originally built in 1927 and was once a part of the B&O railroad. To top off the visit, the museum boasts a scale model railroad of the first 13 miles of track from Baltimore to Ellicott City. We thought it was pretty great and I’m betting kiddos of all ages will enjoy watching the trains traverse back and forth across the landscape.
If You Go
- 3711 Maryland Avenue, Ellicott City
- Closed Mon/Tues
- 10:00 – 3:00 Wed/Thurs/Fri
- 10:00 – 5:00 Sunday
- Restrooms on first floor
- Gift shop on first floor
- Outside ramp for those who find stairs difficult
- Nearby street/lot parking
- Free admission
The Shrine of St. Anthony
Just a short drive from the historic center of Ellicott City we made our way to the Shrine of St. Anthony having no idea of what we’d find. It just sounded like a place we needed to see. The drive along Folly Quarter Road was picture perfect with fields of green and the obligatory red barn in the distance every so often.
It turned out to be a lovely discovery, the Shrine of St. Anthony, which sits atop a gentle hill with panoramic views of the surrounding valley.
While the center is based in faith, one doesn’t have to be religious (for lack of a better word) to visit the center, stroll the grounds and/or take a peaceful walk through the woods, which is what we did. We also visited the chapel located inside the center.
What we learned is that the Shrine of St. Anthony is a full-service day retreat center, serving parishes, schools and organizations. Home to the Franciscan Friars, the center itself has a long history of service to others. It was all very interesting and no one seemed to mind our presence, actually, I think all are welcome. Visit with quiet respect, is what we recommend. It’s is truly a lovely respite while exploring the back roads of Maryland.
If You Go
- 12290 Folly Quarter Road, Ellicott City
- Restrooms located inside the center
- Gift Shop
- Ample parking
- Hiking Trails