Just over three months after a devastating flood struck historic Ellicott City’s Main Street, it was reopened on Thursday, October 6, 2016, for vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Only a few of its intrepid shop owners, however, followed suit. I checked out the town on Friday morning, Oct. 7th, and was saddened and shocked by what I found.
The massive flooding of July 30, 2016, took a very hard toll on many of Ellicott City’s residents and businesses. Looking at the visible damages it caused, I had to ask myself this question: “Will this gritty town ever bounce back to its former glory?”
I talked with long time resident, John Beck. “The water came rushing down Main Street. It was like a huge, roaring funnel. Cars were floating by me, along with lots and lots of debris.”
Two people also lost their lives in the flooding; property damage ran in the millions of dollars.
Mr. Beck lives in a third floor apartment on Main Street, the “old town” part of the city. He added: “In all my years here, about four decades now, I never saw anything like this kind of flash flooding. It was really scary. And, it wasn’t the Patapsco River that was overflowing, it was the Tiber!”
The Patapsco sits at the base of the town and runs roughly east and west. You can find the railroad bridge crossing there and the B&O R/R station and museum. The Tiber, on the other hand, runs mostly under the town, on a north to south projectory.
On the night of July 30th, the swollen Tiber, and other tributaries which contribute to it, literally became Main Street. The rapids, as a result of the sudden, torrential rains, were worthy of a white water rafting trip! About six inches of rain fell on the impacted area in just under 90 minutes.
Critics point to continuing over-development as the likely cause of the disaster. Just above the town, where the Tiber and Hudson streams are located, a lot of new buildings, streets and parking lots have been constructed in the last few years on its hilly terrain. All of that has had a tendency, some argue, to make Main Street even more vulnerable to any flash flooding from above.
As time passes, more and more folks residing in the historic district below have wondered about the wisdom of permitting all of that uptown development without proper stormwater management.
Mr. Beck directed my attention to the “Phoenix Emporium” tavern and restaurant just across the street from his residence on Main Street. It sits opposite the B&O railroad station. Beck said, “You see that blue awning on the Phoenix building, well, it’s about twelve feet or so up from the street level. The raging waters were, at least, as high as that fixture.”
The Phoenix, badly damaged, is still closed and under repairs.
Ellicott City is steeped in the history of our America. It got its name from the Ellicott Mills located where the town begins at Frederick Road and the Patapsco. It was founded in 1772, four years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The B&O R/R’s first terminus, outside of Baltimore, was established in Ellicott City in 1830. It is the oldest serving railroad station in the country. The CSX freight trains run through it on a daily basis.
The local politicos, and Gov. Larry Hogan, too, are all aware of the serious problems this historic town now faces. Like other fans of Ellicott City, I’m hoping that they can come up with a viable solution, but, I predict, it’s not going to be quick, easy or inexpensive.
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Bill Hughes is an attorney, author, actor and photographer. His latest book is “Byline Baltimore.” It can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/William-Hughes/e/B00N7MGPXO/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1