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Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum: Ellicott City Station
The Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad Station at Ellicott City is the terminus of the railway’s original thirteen-mile section. Constructed in 1830–1831 with native stone, it is the earliest surviving station of the oldest continually operating railway in the world. The locally quarried granite used for the two-story structure is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the city’s architectural landscape. At the station, the cut stone is skillfully laid in a rich, random ashlar pattern to accommodate sizes ranging from huge blocks to smaller stones or galleting. Ultra-thin mortar joints and quoining contribute to its beauty and quality craftsmanship.
The station is banked into the hillside so that the ticketing office and waiting room are elevated to the upper story where they open onto the platform located at the top of the rise. A broad overhang supported by ornamental oversized brackets covers the platform. Originally at the ground or street level was the unfinished post-transport storage area. With the exception of a few Victorian-era flourishes, such as the stick-style bracketing in the gable ends, the station is restrained in its design. This is true of most structures in town dating from this early period, perhaps a reflection of the Quaker heritage of the founding Ellicott family. The vernacular design of the Ellicott City Station stands in contrast to such B&O structures as the Georgian-style Mount Clare Station in Baltimore, designed by Neirnsee and Neilson. E. Francis Baldwin, who became the B&O’s in-house architect in 1872, also designed numerous passenger stations, mostly in the Queen Anne style.
The B&O was the first common-carrier, offering freight as well as passenger service. Eventually linking Baltimore with the Ohio River and the growing trade in the west, the B&O’s first section extended only to Ellicott City (then known as Ellicott Mills). As the state’s earliest and most prosperous mill town, Ellicott Mills presented the model for best practices in the development of a significant milling industry in the greater Baltimore area. Brothers Joseph, Andrew, Nathaniel, and John Ellicott established Ellicott’s Mills in the 1770s, providing the impetus for the region’s switch from tobacco to grain production and greatly influencing local trade and agriculture. The Ellicotts developed not only a large-scale merchant milling complex, but also introduced a system of vertical integration to include cultivation, production, labor (housing), and shipping. As a major transportation line, the B&O facilitated the establishment of Ellicott Mills as an important commercial center, and eventually the seat of the newly formed Howard County, in 1852.
The development of the B&O was motivated by plans for the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal, which called for a path following the Potomac River, far from the port city of Baltimore whose city leaders responded by developing a scheme to protect Baltimore’s trade and transportation interests. Viewed as rival projects, both the canal and railroad commenced construction on the same day—July 4, 1828. Prior to the establishment of the B&O, there were only a handful of rail lines in the United States, all of limited length and built to transport materials for specialized purposes, such as the three-mile line in Quincy, Massachusetts, built in 1826 to haul stone for the construction of the Bunker Hill Monument (MA-01-CH6). The B&O was the first railroad designed to haul freight and passenger for general purposes and over long distances. The line began at the site of the current Mount Clare Station in Baltimore (MD-01-510-0106; 1835), to which a roundhouse was added in 1883. The site for the Ellicott City B&O Station was donated by the Ellicotts, as was the stone used in its construction, which came from their quarry. Originally designed as a locomotive car house, produce house, and superintendent’s office, the station also contained an office for the construction superintendent, who oversaw the railroad’s westward expansion. As a passenger line, the railroad met with even more success than anticipated as Maryland citizens clamored for the thrill of riding the “iron horse.” Baltimoreans often took advantage of the train during summer months to travel to Ellicott City, which made the city a popular summer retreat.
A brick freight warehouse was built adjacent to the station in 1885 in response to the increase in passenger transport. It is a single-story, two-bay-by-one-bay structure with an overhanging gable roof supported by large ornamental brackets. The front facade includes entries at each end with corbelled buttresses between. Decorative corbelled brickwork and a half-round window appear in the gable ends. Located between the warehouse and the main station are the remnants of a turntable built in the early 1840s. Built of granite, it is fifty feet in diameter and was used to rotate the engines for the return trip to Baltimore.
Through a lease created in the 1970s with the Historic District Commission of Howard County, the Ellicott City Station now houses the B&O Railroad Museum, including rare period locomotives and other railroading artifacts. On the interior, the ground floor contains a large open space with the stone walls and wood floor joists left exposed, and there is a stone fireplace with a large open hearth at the gable end. Originally used to store produce prior to shipment, the first floor now houses interpretative exhibits and historic artifacts. The second floor is partitioned into three, well-appointed spaces including a passenger waiting area, ticket area, and station agent’s office. There is an opening to the center of the station’s interior from which the produce stored in the basement was lifted to track level for transport. The eastern end of the building contained the car shop. At the southern end was the car house, accessed via a spur rail and a round-arched double doorway. The floor here was also originally open to the lower level to facilitate repair of the locomotives and other railroad cars from underneath. Also in situ are two copper funnels used to service the steam engines. Ellicott City Station is the only one extant that was built to service engines in this manner. Following the rapid growth in size of steam engines, this service bay was obsolete by the 1840s.
Boundal, Enalee, and Jean O. Hannon. “Ellicott City Railroad Station,” Howard County, Maryland, January 1975. Maryland Historical Trust Nomination Form, Crownsville, MD.
Hannon, Jean O. “Ellicott City Historic District (Ellicott City; Ellicott’s Mills),” Howard County, Maryland, January 1975. Maryland Historical Trust Nomination Form, Crownsville, MD.
Mendinghall, Joseph Scott. “Ellicott City Station (B&O), Freight Building & Turntable,” Howard County, Maryland, February 1975. Maryland Historical Trust Nomination Form, Crownsville, MD.
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