August 10, 2016

Residents in Historic Ellicott City Are Ready to Rebuild After Flood

  • By: Jenna Sauber
Dozens of properties on Main Street in Ellicott City suffered severe foundational damage in the flood.

photo by: Ken Short/Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning

Dozens of properties on Main Street in Ellicott City suffered severe foundational damage in the flood.

This week residents and business owners in Historic Ellicott City, Maryland, started making some headway in the recovery effort after disastrous flooding damaged the heart of their town on the evening of July 31.

Six inches of rain in under two hours led to a flash flood that damaged dozens of buildings, washed away numerous vehicles, ripped up Main Street, and claimed two lives. According to a statement made by Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman the next morning, the damage is “a level of destruction never before seen in Ellicott City.”

According to the Maryland Historical Trust, the area impacted by the floods includes three National Register of Historic Places listings, six properties on which the Trust holds an historic preservation easement, and 101 properties recorded in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties.

The 244-year-old mill town is prone to flooding, as it sits between the Patapsco River and Tiber Creek. Since the 1800s, residents have rebuilt time and again after hurricanes and floods wiped out mills, homes, and businesses.

Building assessments are ongoing, managed by the county and in partnership with Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust. Ken Short is an architectural historian with Howard County, and he’s been gathering as much information as possible to guide property owners in the renovation and recovery process. A week ago, he had assessed around 50 buildings, and was working as quickly as he could before Main Street access was closed again.

“We’re looking at the significant historic features and the threats to them, and making notes of features that may not have been damaged but we want to keep an eye on protecting them as this work is going on,” Short said. “Historic preservation is at the table, and people understand its importance.”

For more resources, check out Preservation Leadership Forum's free publication "Treatment of Flood-Damaged Older and Historic Buildings."

Caplan’s Department Store on Main Street was completely gutted by the floods.

photo by: Ken Short/Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning

Caplan’s Department Store on Main Street was completely gutted by the floods.

Once again, Ellicott City will look different, but everyone is hard at work cleaning up under the guidance of fire and safety crews. Facebook pages are full of offers of support and services, jobs, homes to sleep in, and more.

Tom Coale serves as Vice Chair of the Ellicott City Partnership, an organization that preserves the city’s heritage and promotes economic growth. He’s been diligently providing detailed updates on his blog, HoCo Rising, with information on fundraising and volunteer efforts, guidelines and statements from the county, and specific needs for property owners and residents.

“Our main focus is to get our residents, merchants, and property owners back on their feet as much as possible,” he said.

ECP has been meeting with individuals to offer Visa gift cards and connect them to the right resources, whether it’s the Red Cross, or state and federal agencies; he cautions those looking to help to leave the t-shirts, socks, and teddy bears at home.

“We’re not comfortable telling people what they need,” he said. “We want people to get what they need.”

Some residents are not even sure yet what they will need. A week after the flood, All Time Toys owner Jason Barnes had only been allowed to visit his store once to grab his server and cash—he was waiting to hear when he would have an extended amount of time to assess the damage for the business he just took over two months ago after working as an employee for 10 years.

“I had to shut down our store on eBay, on Amazon—that merchandise was in the basement,” he said. “I may be able to salvage about one third of the merchandise upstairs. There’s only so much that can be done with you’re dealing with this kind of destruction.”

One of the buildings on Main Street marked unsafe for access after the floods in Ellicott City.

photo by: Ken Short/Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning

One of the buildings on Main Street marked unsafe for access after the floods in Ellicott City.

Once Jason’s back door was blown open by the flood waters, he had just enough time to get upstairs and outside—where he joined forces with other residents to form a human chain to rescue a woman stuck in her car as the waters rushed down the street. Video footage of the rescue has been viewed on YouTube more than 255,000 times and is featured on the GoFundMe campaign page set up to support Jason and his family while they wait to rebuild. As of August 9, the campaign had raised nearly $33,000.

“That video has basically saved my family,” Jason said. “We’re getting a lot of love and support for everything.”

Beth Burgess, Resource Conservation Chief for Howard County’s Department of Planning and Zoning, said that in the midst of tragedy, it’s a “wonderful opportunity to do something amazing as a community, to keep the charm and character of Ellicott City.” She and her team are also making some new discoveries within the historic district unearthed by the floodwaters, like artifacts from old mills. “We’re going to make as much good out of this as possible.”

Property evaluations continue this week, and residents are eager to move forward, stronger than before.

“These are not timid folks,” said Coale. “These are determined, thick-skinned people that are not going to get set back by something like this.”

Jenna Sauber is a freelance writer and nonprofit communications consultant in Washington, D.C. She blogs about literature, family, and more at jennasauber.com.

@cajunjen

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