Old Ellicott City Deemed One of the Country’s Best Downtowns

Old Ellicott City is a timeless little town that was founded in 1772. The city, affectionately nicknamed “ Old Elly” by locals, is currently surrounded by newer residential developments but maintains its antique charm and is well known for its abundance of small stores and local landmarks that make it unique.

Recently, this local hot spot was named by Parade Magazine as one of the best Main Streets in the entire country. In July 2014, Parade sought to end the age-old debate: “What is the best downtown in America?” Over 2000 Main Streets across the country competed for the title, but only one could win.

The residents of Ellicott City rushed to vote for Main Street, out-numbering other minor cities as the competition wore on; however, they were eventually topped by the residents of Collierville, TN, in the semi-finals of the tournament. Despite getting so far, many locals were heart-broken.

Still, Ellicott City residents are proud of having made it so far in the competition.

This sign painted on the side of the historic B&O Railroad bridge welcomes  community members as they enter the downtown area from Oella (Photo courtesy of www.destinationmainstreets.com).

This sign painted on the side of the historic B&O Railroad bridge welcomes community members as they enter the downtown area from Oella (Photo courtesy of http://www.destinationmainstreets.com).

“It’s pretty surprising considering it’s so small,” said sophomore Zac Weilminster. “I didn’t realize that Old Ellicott had such a following, but it is a really great downtown.

The source of Old Ellicott City’s appeal is an enigma, unknown but evident. The numerous quaint, family-run businesses that can be found along Main Street are arguably a key factor in the city’s charm.

Sophomore Jack Fletcher said he visits often “because of all the fun shops and the selection.”

Fletcher is hardly wrong, as businesses such as “Out of Our Pasts Antiques” and other shops showcasing old-age relics have been flourishing there for years.

Fletcher also stated he enjoys how Old Ellicott City “represents the values that it used to have but also incorporates a modern twist.”

The town’s many unique small businesses appeal to many people of all ages, especially on Black Friday. Shops such as “Rayes’ Jewelry” and the “Diamondback Tavern” have been attracting tourists since they opened years ago. Popular among children, “All Time Toys” sells toys and board games for any age. Teenagers, in particular, have been known to enjoy new clothes purchased from “Caplan’s” and “Sweet Elizabeth Jane.”

Old Ellicott City is known for its small businesses, and no small business is bigger than the food business. In Ellicott City, cuisine is what really shines. In the heart of Main Street, Portalli’s is an Italian Restaurant with a beautiful atmosphere and great food. On special days, such as New Year’s Eve and Black Friday, Portalli’s is packed with an abundance of hungry tourists and locals. Among others, Weilminster praised the Ellicott City Brewery, whose artisan hamburgers make it a popular spot for diners.

For diners looking for a more festive meal, junior Maheen Ahmed stated her favorite restaurant is “La Palapa,” owned by father of Class of 2014 graduate Valeria Eades. This Mexican-themed nightclub features great music, food and seating.

Old Ellicott City has its fair share of stories and urban legends. Some locals believe that Old Elly has a dark, hidden secret. Located near Ilchester Road, the remains of St. Mary’s College stands overlooking the Patapsco River. Many of the local teenagers have taken to calling the old building, “Hell House,” due to many rumors of paranormal activity.

However, the truth is simply that “Hell House” is nothing but an abandoned college. There are no ghosts, ghouls, or spirits on Ilchester Road, but the area is still a popular tourist attraction.

Downtown Old Ellicott City was also featured in the 1958 film “The Goddess.” The story focuses mostly on the main character, Rita Shawn, who went from Ellicott City local to Hollywood star. Throughout the story, she struggles to deal with crazy fans, black mail and much more. Though the film did not have the most spectacular reviews, it is still quite interesting that such a small city was part of the set of a Hollywood film.

Even though “Parade Magazine” did not formally acknowledge Old Ellicott City, the town continues to be an important center of art, cuisine and commerce.

Categories: Features, Local News

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