Week 25: Ellicott City Fire Station, Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, and Isaac Log Cabin


Howard County Recreation and Parks mission: To responsibly manage natural resources; provide excellent parks, facilities, and recreation opportunities for the community; and ensure the highest quality of life for current and future generations.

Today in 1788, Maryland became the seventh state to ratify the United States Constitution. Yesterday was Spring Heritage Day in Ellicott City, Maryland.  My Maryland friend and I participated by visiting three small Maryland historic sites in Ellicott City.

Having grown up in Columbia, a city that’s only 15 years older than I am, I’m not accustomed to associating history with my hometown. But neighboring Ellicott City has been around a bit longer, with a charming, hilly, historic main street and a half-dozen small museums within walking distance of each other.

Ellicott City Fire Station museum

Ellicott City Fire Station museum

We first visited the Ellicott City Fire Station, also known as the Ellicott City Firehouse Museum, not to be confused with the current Ellicott City Volunteer Fire Department (which is not a museum, but which does have a holiday train garden on display every December).  This one-room museum was once a firehouse, built in 1889; the fire department would later outgrow the space.

Today, the museum packs a lot of artifacts into a small space, including old fire-fighting vehicles and bells, shelves of model fire engines, historical photographs and documents relating to the fire department of Ellicott City, and a “fireman ashtray” that was “won as a door prize at Maryland State Firemen’s Association Convention in Ocean City, Maryland in the early 1960s.” A museum staff person explained the multi-step process of getting a fire put out in the 1890s, which included knocking on a door across the street, coming back to the fire station to get equipment, and hitching up whatever horses were available in a nearby stable.

Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park

Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park

Our next stop was the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, a women’s college from the 1800s that is now in ruins. I have been to ruins in Italy and Mexico, but how often do I get to see ruins in the county where I grew up? Diana and I got a guided tour of the ruins of a stone building where young women used to live and learn. The students were encouraged to keep busy by walking the grounds (walking, I recently learned, is Maryland’s official state exercise) and working in the gardens, but they were also to stay isolated from the rest of the town and never have visitors.

Natural causes brought the building into disrepair; there was no disaster or deliberate demolition. Researchers have learned a bit from archaeology at the site, and our tour guide hopes there will be a lot more archaeological digging in the future, once funds allow for it.

Thomas Isaac Log Cabin

Thomas Isaac Log Cabin

Last, we visited the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin, a one-room cabin that could house a family of 8-10. The cabin was built in the late 18th century and named after its owner in the late 19th century.

The objects in the museum are replicas of period objects, allowing visitors to touch them. Children can sit at the small table and play a non-electronic game of checkers. There is a deck of cards on which all 52 cards contain animal rhymes, each ending with a rhyming moral. A fireplace for cooking and warmth, a bed in the corner, sewing materials, and shelves full of dishes show the many functions this small cabin served.

I may not get much history in my hometown, where a shopping mall is listed as the main attraction. But three museums in one day in the next town over are the next best thing.

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April’s blog theme is Local History.

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About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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