Ellicott City-You Don’t Need to be a Local to Love It
I have to be perfectly honest; in many ways, I don’t really like the State of Maryland.
I moved here from Virginia in 2004, and I never quite felt like I fit in. I root for the Redskins not the Ravens, I’ve never played a game of lacrosse, and I sure wouldn’t think to speak during the playing of the National Anthem, let alone shout “Oh!” during its concluding lines. I’m not one for the politics that run the state, and places that have riots break out in their major cities just don’t do a good job of courting my favor. I’ve tried to explain to my native Marylander friends why I enjoy driving to Virginia and visiting the Shenandoah Mountains, or taking a trip down I-81 for a weekend. They typically respond with a quizzical look; one that says: “Why would you go all the way down there, HON, when you got everything you need here…HON?” Even after 12 years (and counting), the Virginia Gentleman still doesn’t mix well with the National Bohemian.
But I do love Historic Ellicott City.
The town is a throwback of sorts to its early days of when it specialized in milling. Although a grain mill is still present and operating, much of the old buildings have transitioned into various kinds of restaurants and shops. It’s a town that melds modern with old-fashioned, and it blends it well.
I was raised in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Fredericksburg and Ellicott City are both cut from the same cloth; towns developed from the strain and sweat based on the needs of commerce, that by their own creation created surrounding homes, businesses, schools…. communities…. families. Both timeless as time moved on, only gently touched by modernism, places that neighbors liked to keep as it were, with only some amenities thrown in for comfort. Fredericksburg always holds a place in my heart, and Old Ellicott City has always been a familiar ground of sorts. I could go there and hear live music in the summer, or shop for Christmas gifts, or take my little girl out for ice cream. There, it’s easy to find a smile, and hear strangers say “hello”… Maybe these Marylanders and I aren’t so far apart after all.
So when I heard on the news last Saturday night about the flash floods in the town, I honestly didn’t think much of it. I checked some of the early reports that six inches of rain fell in the surrounding area. What I didn’t know was that it happened in less than two hours. I didn’t process what was happening; I just shrugged it off and went to bed.
And as I was going to bed, people were fighting for their lives. Business owners in their tiny shops were making human chains to pull others from their cars, cars that were being washed away like a Hot Wheels in a bath drain. Two people would not survive.
I awoke the next morning and saw the devastation for myself. The buildings I knew so well, the places I visited with my family for brunch, for gifts, for nothing but to enjoy the town itself…. Gone. Destroyed. There is no Old Ellicott City. It’s iconic clock post that greets every visitor at the main street entrance, washed away. It was announced that whole buildings would be condemned. Family businesses, the life’s work of generations, destroyed in a single, massive rainstorm.
It was hard to see, hard to understand, hard to process. I just couldn’t deal with the heartache that the media was showing me: Residents collapsing in agony, realizing their lives were carried away in a monsoon. But I couldn’t look away either, and embarrassingly, my thoughts turned to myself. I thought of my old town, my Fredericksburg, how I would feel if it were taken away from me. Ellicott City has been lovely, but it is not mine. I’m a guest, a visitor passing through. My Maryland friends have lost something special that will be hard to be replaced. It’s made it hurt all the more knowing that your neighbors, although different, have lost a piece of home.
I don’t know what “home” is for you, but I think we all have an Ellicott City somewhere in our travels. Maybe yours is Carytown, or Shockoe Bottom. Maybe it is farther away. For as long as I can remember, mine has been Fredericksburg. But there is enough room in my heart for Ellicott City now, too. Maybe there is enough room in yours, and you can help in some way. I hope you will, and I hope you come visit Old Ellicott City soon. It’s got great music, great ice cream, great shops and great restaurants. It’s got a great clock post, and it will run again.
And when you come, it will all be here. Old Ellicott City will return.
Jason Wells is the President and Founder of the National Advancements for Proactive Safety, an educational non-profit organization committed to providing a safe community through intervention processes, as well as a board member of the National Senior Citizens Committee. He is a former Special Agent with the United States Secret Service, and holds a Masters of Science with
highest honors in Strategic Security and Protection Management he is a weekly contributing writer to the online publication Robious Corridor and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Fatherly.com, Slate and most recently in Forbes.