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THE EARLY HIM'OHY OF EI2RIDGE LANDING
Robert Sehnepfe Biggs
Required for initiation into I.iaryland
Beta Chapter of T n u Beta Pi
I// 2.*/ 51
Nine and one-half miles from Baltimore on the Baltimore-
Washington Highway, Elkridge still stands, but in the desolation of its
departed glory. It is a skeleton of its former self. It was prosperous
before Baltimore was begun. In its Halcyon days it was the commercial
rival of Annapolis. Ships from England came up to its docks. The water
er of the upper Patapseo had been discovered and harnessed, and mills
grew up along its banks for miles. Boiling roads reached down to the
busy landing from many directions and over then the tobacco hogsheads
'-ere handrolled to the ships' sides. These ships that first bore away
tobacco, later bore also iron ore, lumber, grain and flour.
Just before the Revolution several things happened to crush
Elk Ridge. Baltimore came into be in?-: on a more accessible and dependable
■ater-front. The cargoes went that way. The very tide sensed the futil-
ity of driving so far inland; turned back before it reached the landing.
The history of old Elk Ridge since then has been one of abandonment and
As the Patapsco narrows, "before Baltimore, it turns west-
ward. It loses its tide in another half-dozen miles, and its brine is
washed out of it by the sweet waters from its highland reaches. In the
hteentfi century there were twenty miles of ferreting tides in Patans-
co. They reached lazily across the flat lands until stopped near the
mouth of a noble gorge. And just there stood Elk Ridge Landir .
The history of £lic Ridge Landing :oes back to the founding
of Howard County itself. Bordered by the rocky profile of the
Patapsco on the north and by the rich levels of the Pstuxent on the
south, so situated was Howard County with a history that covered tvro
centuries and yet it had no historian to cover it. liany have heard
stories of when this western section of the Mother County, Anne
Arundel, was erected into Howard -District, but none recorded the
struggles of the early pioneer settlers who made it that way.
The Patuxent was known as early as tbe St. Mary's. The
Patapsco "as first explored by Capt. John Smith who called it the
Bolus River because its red banks reminded him of "Bole Armoniach"
which meant a red clay, so colored by iron in the soil, a fact which
made history in Elkridge later. Up these Rivers and along the blind
paths, biased by Indian hunters, came the lowland settlers to the
Ridge of Elks, to build their cabins by the side of the Indian
Land grants were made to Charles Carrol (lO,ono acres),
to Thomas Browne, Benjamin Hood, Richard Snovden, Colonel Henry
Ridge ly, Richard War field, John Horsey, Col. Edward Dorsey who made
surveys, all of which was before 1700. A quarter of a century later,
this whole area was occupied by the sons and grandsons of these
The Ridge of Elks had become the summer resort of fashion. It
was so popular in fact as to cover the hole territory, from Laurel to
Elk Ridge Landing, to EHicott City, to Clarksville, and back to Laurel.
Thomas Browne's sons, Richard Snowden's sons, Colonel Ridgely' s
grandsons, Richard Warfi eld's grandsons, John Horsey* s grandsons, and
Col. Edward Dorsey's sons all were located upon the excellent tobacco
lands of the Ridge.
In 1683, the Assembly passed "An Act for Advancement of Trade"
which aimed to encourage the creation of toi ns . principally sea ports for
t the northern terminus of Elk Ridge, overlooking in pictur-
esque beauty the gorges of the Patapsco on the north, and spreading out to
the east in a water way which no longer exists, was early erected a T'ort
of Entry to accomodate the tobacco grovers of upuer Anne Arundel.
In 1696 the Assembly passed an act - hich caused "4 Rolling
Roads to be marked and cleared for the Rolling of Tobacco to the Ports
of Anne Arundel County." This is the origin of the road known today as
the Rolling Road.
Saplings and branches of trees were laid on the roads so that
the hogsheads of tobacco should not get ^tuck in the mud in wet weather,
and they were called 'corduroy" roads. A strong pole was passed thru
the center of the hogsheads, leaving ample margin at either end at which
a man or two could walk. This tobacco was transported thru very hilly
country, and must have been a very difficult journey. The hogsheads were
not always moved by man, however, as horses and oxen were often user-.
The sailors of the ships sent over by London merchants for
tobacco were required to load it at the door of the shipper, which was
easy enough at the beginning when each plantation had its own wharf at its
own door so to speak.
As colonization increased and new plantations were taken up
farther inward, away from the navigable rivers, this regulation became an
increasing hardship, because of the enormous distances over which they
were obliged to roll tobacco in Maryland.
The London merchants added their complaints to those of the
sailors, so in 1727, the Assembly passed an act requiring (under penalty
of 100 pounds of tobacco) that within five days of receiving a written re-
ouest all persons paying out tobacco should roll their own hogsheads to a
This lav? relieved the merchants of having their sailors
gather up and roll the tobacco to their ships from places s onetimes as
far as twenty-f ive miles from £lk Ridge landing.
In 173F the Assembly passed a law for erecting a torn at and
about the landing. The town was to be called Jansen Town to consist of
forty lots laid out on a tract of thirty acres according to the plan for
laying out Baltimore town. This town was never laid out but failure to
do so did not in any way interfere with the trade at 3lk Ridge Landing.
It is believed that this town was never laid out because the necessary
water frontage could not be obtained. This sidelight was ftiven by Mr.
Boswell, an old resident, and present postmaster of Xlkridge.
Many abuses had crept into the tobacco trade - short weight,
crumpled leaves, etc. - so that another act was passed in 1747,
It was entitled "An Act to .Amend the Staple of Tobacco" and
provided for a wharf, a scales, a warehouse and an inspector at each r>ort
of entry. At that time it was indeed a "port of entry", for it was a lusty
rival of iinnapolis.
In 1763 tliere were 1,695 hogsheads of tobacco, more than
half the crop in -Anne Arundel County, Inspected at Elk Ridge, end during.
the Revolution it was at the height of its usefulness. The great
Northern and Southern Post Road ran through it. Into this highway other
"roll in- roads" entered.
Woe unto Elkrldge for the river with its ten- foot channel
to the bay and its ocean-crosping ships, the very river which made Elk-
ridge a nlace of importance, began nor-, treacherously, to steal away the
eminence which it had brought.
As early as the middle of the 18th century, planters were
complaining of the river bed filling and the difficulty with which the
ships made their private landings and that the captains of the same ships,
no matter how much they ?;ere reprimanded, would throw overboard in it,
as they came to port, their ballast of sand and the like.
In 183? a law was massed to "prevent injuring the navigation
to Baltimore Town and to the Inspection House at Elk Ridge landing on
Patapsco River." In effect it said, "Mo earth, 3and or dirt was to be
thrown into or put upon the beach or shore of the Patapsco or any
navigable branch thereof belo^ high water mark except r-hen secured by
stone wall or dove-tailed log-pen from washing into the river, under a
"penalty of five pounds, current money."
In the meantime the iron industry had been flourishing in the
vicinity of Elkridge. Iron ores and mines were plentiful along the shores
of the Patapsco. Consequently, forges and furnaces ber;an to appear, and
England, to choke the infant industry, of which she was .iealous, offered
a bounty on all iron imported to the colony.
In 1719 the Maryland Assembly, to rebuke this childish act
and to stimulate the iron industry, ordered that a grant of one hundred
acres should be given to everyone who should erect a forge or furnace
in Iwaryland. Excellent iron ore mines and forges siirrounded the landing,
doubtless one result of this act.
The most important was the development by Caleb Dorsey and
his brother, &3ward. Mines were opened, forges built, lands ten miles
in extent were bought or surveyed, furnaces were erected and ships were
sent laden with the output to the Siglish markets.
Forges he built were Avalon and further south was Hockley,
perhaps after the name of his boyhood farm, and a third, Belmont, near his
home, which altho built in 1738 still stands today. This house was built
of English brick brought over in his own shin?. The iron business was
increasing by leans and bounds and his brother built still another forge
at Curtyss's Creek works.
The Avalon furnace was the first mill in America to manu-
facture ten penny nails, the nails used before that time being hammered
out of wrought iron.
These old furnaces for producing pig iron were essentially
crude. They were built of stone and brick, the blast being furnished by
a curious circular bellows which was operated by a water wheel and very
little machinery or gearing was used, >- ; o crude v : ere the works that a
water wheel was necessary for each set of bellows and hammer; often one
forge building contained several water wheels*
The Avalon Iron Vtorks was the mast successful of all of
early Elkridge's works. In it were manufactured iron plates, bars and
nails. Daring >jhe revolution it manufactured many guns for the defense
of the country. As late as 1868 a small steamer, the "Great Western",
plied up the Patapsco, the owners of the works spent a great deal of
money in straightening and deepening a channel up the river as far as
B & O's Thomas viaduct. They then purchased a small tug and a number of
scows for their r r ork. Pig and scrap iron were loaded on the scows at
Baltimore for Avalon and manufactured iron hauled hack and loaded on
the scows to be taken to the city. j. n his work was completely broken in
by a freshet in 1868 which completely destroyed the wharves and channel.
Prior to the revolution the land so suited to the raising
of tobacco was bee caning poor and the planters were planning to desert
their lands for Kentucky and other tobacco lands. Hovever, the advent
of the Ellicotts showed them by use of fertilizer they could convert
their lands to wheat fields. Thus the plantations that were once sup-
plying tobacco to -Jigland benan to supply wheat for neighboring grist
mills but primarily the mill of Andrew i£Llicott. Another export was added
to that of Elk Ridge Landing.
When the Revolution came and with that the English factors
who had been in charge of the shipments of tobacco to England returned
to their mother country.
The trade became diverted to a new port, the town of Balti-
more, not so old but growing mightily and reaching out greedy hands in
every direction for trade.
A town with warehouses and shippers of its own, some native
Americans, some Scotch and Irish and German settlers who were keen
enough to see the future that lay here.
A town that once the revolution was over and the seas were
free had ships sailing to ports all over the world. Truly a more formid-
able rival than Annapolis had ever been.
Also the law against throwing out of ballast had not stemmed
the dwindling tide of the river upon which Elkridge depended for its
Silt brought down by freshet from the ran idly clearing farm
lands above added its nenace to the sand and gravel ballast.
The willows began, to spring up, began their stealthy march
upon the water and the once busy port of Elkridge landing massed into
history leaving but meagre data of its once busy mart. Today there are
no relics of its taverns for the accomodation of t5>e drivers; of its
stables for the keep of their horse; of its tobacco ivarehouse wherein
were deposited the immense hogsheads of tobacco and later flour from the
successful mills of the fillicott brothers; of the Wharves; of the scales
rovided by the act of Assembly no vestige remains.
J. D, Iv'arfield in "Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard
Counties" says "-Ulk Ridge landing could have had no artists, else they
would have left a picture of the impromptu gatherings at our early -Glk
Ridge Landing; of the vessels; of the wharves; of the old houses now lost
to us." Some landmarks, however, remain. Its founder built his house
upon a rock upon a hill which the floods cannot dostroy. Altho his forge
Avalon has been washed away, his home "Belmont" stands as a monument to
the deceased town and to the "rich iron merchant of Elk Ridge".
The history of JSlk Ridge landing can be narrowed down to a
single question, i.e. -ill Baltimore or J^lkridge be the important city of
Elkridge, as it is now known, answered the Question when s*
pushed the waters of the Patapsco away.
r" - /■- "
.. resent port"
bridge Landing- » ds -
„^ ^ost Eopd ao were s tlU
master ^ v?Gn n ET«r
, pen renamed »no
h9Ve since "been
I -ia. . Directory 1878
Md. Directory 1880
Rent Rolls of Anne Arundel County
J. D. WarfieM "founders of Anne Arundel County"
Isohel Davidson. "Real Stories from Baltimore County History"
E. E. Lantz "The Spirit of Maryland"
Md. Historical Magazine - 1921, 1926 (vol. 16, 21)
Balto. Municipal Journal, Feb. 6, 1931
Newspaper article, Sunday Sua, Sept. 5, 1926
Maryland Gazette (vol. 16) May 27, 1729, and 1745
Scharf 's Baltimore City County History
L. A. Bo lander "Ghost Towns and Ships of Md."
Colonial Mansions of liarylend, J. M. Haimond
Maryland and its resources, J. H. W. Staff
Manufactures in Md. Spence TG 9727, M3M4
Md. Verticle Hie - Elkridge (Enoch Pratt)