European settlement of the area today known as Ellicott City began as early as 1766 when James Hood built a grist mill along the banks of the Patapsco River. One of the earliest recorded floods in 1768 destroyed the original mill, which his son Benjamin Hood subsequently rebuilt and then sold in 1774 to Joseph Ellicott.
Joseph Ellicott and his brothers John and Andrew, Quakers from Philadelphia, selected the area for the establishment of several mills, renaming the area “Ellicott’s Mills.” The Ellicott brother’s foresight and planning ultimately laid the foundation for what would soon become one of the largest milling and manufacturing towns in Maryland and beyond.
In 1830, the town became the first terminus of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad outside of Baltimore City. The junction of vital transportation and manufacturing resources also made the town a critical crossroads during the Civil War. The town enjoyed a post-Civil War economic resurgence, but gradually the large milling industry and importance of the railroad subsided in the 20th century, giving way to today’s service-industry and small boutique commercial makeup of the town. Tourism and day trips quickly replaced the gritty industrialism of the prior one hundred and fifty years. The town was
designated a national historic district in 1976 with more than 200 extant buildings remaining from before 1900.