Friday, March 20, 2009


Standing at the at the corner of Main Street and Maryland Avenue a visitor to Ellicott City Station can gaze up at a wooden post supporting the walkway across the B&O Railroad’s Oliver Viaduct and see markings documenting the height of various floods through the Patapsco River Valley. The greatest of them all, rising 21.5 feet, came roaring down the evening of July 24, 1868.
In the memory of many, however, is the Great Flood of 1972 (marked on the post just below the cross beam) that rose to 14.5 feet. Pounding rain washed over Maryland on the morning of June 21, 1972 as Hurricane Agnes crept up the East Coast. Throughout the morning the Patapsco River rose at a relatively moderate rate. The rain kept coming, however, almost with a vengeance until the River began to spill over its banks. Tributaries throughout the valley began to fill fields and low lying areas adding more and more water to the Patapsco. Between about 8 PM and 9 PM that sultry summer evening the river rose more than 10 feet reaching its crest sometime in the early morning hours of June 22nd. The waters would nearly reach the main waiting room of the Ellicott City Station at track level.
Ellicott City Station and its adjacent bridge positioned at the junction of the Patapsco River and the Tiber River flowing down Main Street witnessed a backwash of water filled with dangerous debris that would threaten the Station that had survived the devastating deluge of 1868. Eight people would die that night-swept away by the raging waters. Automobiles, trucks, large chunks of buildings, telephone poles and twisted railroad track would wreak havoc on anything in their path. Years would pass before Ellicott City and the other communities in the Patapsco Valley would recover.
Two interesting outcomes of the 1972 flood, silver linings to dark storm clouds, have left legacies of B&O history. Rushing water across the railroad tracks entering and leaving Ellicott City Station unearthed some of the B&O Railroad’s early engineering. Granite stone stringers that supported iron strap rail from the 1831 rail bed construction were exposed to the light of day for the first time in more than 125 years. Examples of these along with pieces of original iron strap rail were extracted and brought into the Museum’s collection while others were left in their original position.
Still in occasional use by the Chessie System Railroad as a freight depot, the flood damaged historic station was under threat of sale and/or demolition. In 1974 a group of local preservationists led by Roland and Enalee Bounds gathered up the resources to take possession of the Station, restore it and open it to the public as a museum. They established an organization named Historic Ellicott City Inc. that operated the The Oldest Railroad Station in America for more than 30 years and has tackled numerous important preservation projects in the old town.
Courtney B. Wilson
Executive Director

Newspaper accounts revealing the devastation left by the flood of 1972.

1831 iron strap rail unearthed by the flood waters