Patapsco Valley State Park History

Mentally you can enter another time as you leave urbanization and the 21st century at the Park's gates. The Patapsco River Valley history covers times prior to, as well as after, the establishment of the Colony of Maryland. Just as the state park is hidden behind walls of urbanization, so too, is the Patapsco Valley's history. To discover the valley's past, one must be both a detective and an adventurer.

Getting Started

Avalon History Center. With the help of park maps, photos and a meeting with a park naturalist, you, your friends and family can ease into the discovery of Patapsco Valley history. To schedule a history orientation meeting or program call the Park Naturalist's Office at the Avalon Visitor Center located in the Avalon Area at 410-737-0451. The visitor center is open from April 1st - October 31st from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Program fees help fund the History Center.

Since most of the Valley's historic structures were destroyed during a number of catastrophic floods, your detective skills will be sharpened as you search for historic ruins. With the help of the Park's old photographs, exhibits and maps and your own exploration, you will be amazed as you discover numerous historic sites.

You will actually see the site of a former colonial deep water port for tall ships (Elkridge Landing - 1690); the world's largest multiple arched stone railroad bridge with an arc (Thomas Viaduct - 1835) is used daily; the site of Fort Dix - 1861, a strategic Civil War fort; one of the first hydroelectric dams with under water generators (Bloede's Dam - 1907) remains in place, but no longer generates; Maryland's first state park (Patapsco State Forest Reserve - 1907); the remains of Victor G. Bloede's Avalon Waterworks - 1910; and a Civilian Conservation Corps campsite (Camp Tydings - 1933).

The mill town sites of Avalon, Orange Grove, Elysville, Alberton and Daniels provided family homes for workers who forged iron implements and nails, or milled flower or textiles. Discovering mill town sites shows in some ways these villages live on to spite the floods and fires that have removed most evidence of their existence. Today these mill town sites provide opportunities for people to seek refreshment by recreating outdoors in a 94 year old forest that has been reclaimed from a cut-over and eroded watershed.

Historic Sites

  • Elkridge Landing, settled in 1690, was a prominent colonial deep water port like Annapolis and Joppa. Prior to Baltimore, Elkridge Landing was the "gateway" to shipping agriculture products, natural resources and manufactured goods from the Patapsco's plantations and mills. You can view a remnant of Elkridge Landing at the historic Furnace Inn. From U.S. 1 north in Elkridge turn right on Levering Avenue. Go one block to a left on Main Street. Follow Main Street one block to a right on Furnace Avenue. Proceed down Furnace Avenue to the Furnace Inn on your left. Furnace Inn is a part of the State Park that is leased as a private inn and conference center. This curatorship/lease arrangement aids the state in preserving this historic building, while providing the public access to this very historic structure.
  • Thomas Viaduct was completed in 1835 and is the world's largest multiple arched stone railroad bridge with an arc. Enter the Avalon Area of Patapsco Valley State Park off U.S. 1 at South Street, just north of Elkridge (look for All State Plumbing at South Street). Proceed on Park Entrance Road to contact station. Thomas Viaduct is in view behind contact station. Park in driveway in front of contact station. Note Viaduct interpretive sign at contact station and carefully walk road to examine the Viaduct keeping in mind the danger of the blind curve on the roadway.
  • Old Gun Road Stone Arch Bridge is not in use but it has since colonial times spanned the "Mill Race" supplying water power to the Dorsey Forge. George Washington reportedly laid out Gun Road to move guns for the American Revolution produced at the Dorsey Forge. Transported via Gun Road to Elkridge Landing, the guns were shipped down the River and the Bay to Annapolis for final assembly. In 1815 the Ellicott family acquired Dorsey Forge and expanded it to become the Avalon Iron and Nail Works. Floods in 1868 destroyed the Iron and Nail Works along with the village of Avalon.
  • The River of History and Conservation Visitor Center is located in a 185 year old stone house, the only remaining Avalon house that survived the 1868 flood. The Avalon site was improved by Victor G. Bloede, pronounced "Blerda," to become the Avalon Water Works in 1910. Remnants of the Water Works remain today as does bits and pieces of Camp Tydings. This Civilian Conservation Corps Camp (CCC) was operational between 1933 and 1942 and was located north-west of Old Gun Road Bridge between the Mill Race and the first commercial railroad in the U.S., originally the B&O Railroad and now known as CSX. Following the start of World War II, the CCC Camp was converted to the nation's first Conscientious Objector Camp. This part of Patapsco Valley State Park is appropriately named the Avalon area.
  • The Swinging Bridge spans the Patapsco at Orange Grove, 1.6 miles northwest of Avalon following the Park Road in Howard County beyond shelters 104 and 105. Prior suspension foot bridges at this location enabled residents of the Orange Grove mill town to cross the river to Baltimore County to work in the five stories high Orange Grove Flower Mill of the C.A. Gambrill Manufacturing Company. This mill burned May 1, 1905. Cross the bridge to discover ruins of this large mill site that extended from the railroad tracks to the Swinging Bridge abutment. Orange Grove flour was sold in white bags whose tops were string tied and whose labels proclaimed "Patapsco Superlative Flour."
  • Bloede's Dam is believed to be the world's first submerged electrical generating plant that was housed under water inside the shell of a dam. Victor G. Bloede, the same chemist and entrepreneur who created the Water Works at Avalon, hired electrical engineer Otto Wonder to oversee the development of this unique hydroelectric dam that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Continue on the Park Road, past the Orange Grove Shelter, up river one mile to Bloede's Dam.
  • The Union Dam was originally in the Hollofield area located off U.S. 40 between Catonsville and Ellicott City. To access the Union Dam Trail, proceed past Hollofield Shelter 300. Union Dam originally supplied water power for the W. J. Dickey Textile Mills on Oella, in Baltimore County, across the Patapsco River from Ellicott City.
  • Daniels Dam furnished 400 horsepower for canvas and denim mills and also generated surplus electricity for Baltimore Gas and Electric. Daniels was the most recent mill town to evolve around the dam. The town started in the 1840's as Elysville. The mill changed owners a number of times and in the 1850's the mill produced canvas tents for the Union Army. The current name Daniels came from the C.R. Daniels Company who took ownership of the Mill in the 1950's. The mill closed in 1968 and Tropical Storm Agnes destroyed the town and the mill in 1972. Yet the people of Daniels, though dispersed, still keep the bonds of community strong through annual reunions and the maintenance of a community brass brand that performs on a regular basis. To visit the Daniels Dam and town site in Baltimore County, take Route 29 North to its termination at Route 99, Old Frederick Road. Turn right on Old Frederick Road and proceed to the first left which is still Old Frederick Road. Proceed about one half mile to a left on Daniels Road where you drive about one mile to parking lots on the right and the dam will be on your left.
  • For a delightful hike on Alberton Road in Baltimore County, take Daniels Road back to a left on Old Frederick Road. Follow Old Frederick Road to the railroad crossing and steel bridge at the "T" intersection across the bridge where you turn left on Hollofield Road. Proceed .3 miles to a "T" intersection with Dogwood Road. Turn left over a bridge, then turn left immediately into Alberton Road. Park in the lot before the cattle gate. Proceed through the gate past the private home on the hill. Hike the Alberton road behind the gate and along the river.

Historic Sites References

The Avalon Visitor Center located in the Avalon area is a great place to begin your study of the Patapsco River Valley. Exhibits, photographs and other reference materials are available from the Center's staff. All programs and research conducted at the History and Conservation Center are by appointment by calling 410-461-5005. The visitor center is open from April 1st through October 31st from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Park maps of the eight recreation areas and how to get around these areas are available from the Center, as well as from park headquarters in the Hollofield area, and at each entrance station. The park headquarters also offers the book The Patapsco - Baltimore's River Of History by Paul Travers for $22.95.

The Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park

The Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park is the park's "Friends Group" that has been established as a 501(c)(3) non-for-profit, charitable foundation. Their purpose is to improve the Visitor Center and to help the park raise funds to improve trails and interpretive exhibits and programs. The Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park are looking for both volunteer members and financial tax exempt donations to further its causes. For further information contact the Visitor Center at 410-461-5005.

Park Location

Park areas are west and south of Baltimore City, with headquarters in Howard County on Route 40 West at the Hollofield Area. In Baltimore, Howard, Carroll and Anne Arundel counties, Patapsco has five separate recreation areas: the Avalon/Glen Artney Area is reached via South Street from Route 1 in Elkridge; the Hilton Area is reached from Hilton Avenue, south of South Rolling Road in Catonsville; the Hollofield Area is adjacent to U.S. Route 40 near Ellicott City; the Pickall Area is reached by taking North Rolling Road to Fairbrook Road to Johnnycake Road; and the entrance to the McKeldin Area is off Marriottsville Road.

Patapsco Valley State Park
8020 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043
(410)461-5005