This poem is about the inevitable evolution of a town, the turnover of businesses along Main Street and the hope of starting again.
When the Ellicotts first began building their town, all the action was on the other side of the river. The brothers built their stables, sawmill, house, gristmill, and general store along the Baltimore Turnpike in what is now Baltimore County. Over the years since 1772, commerce moved to the west of the Patapsco River as well.
Poet Scot Ehrhardt said he envisioned walking uphill through old Ellicott City from the train station and the river, past the storefronts, some of which are now boarded up in anticipation of the flood mitigation project. He imagined he could look back in time to see what each storefront once was, under the sedimentary layers of paint and facade.
“OEC at Christmastime has an old-time sweetness and energy,” Ehrhardt said. “Even with the shuttered storefronts, people in the community keep finding ways to bring the space life and warmth. I love the resilience of this strange little curve and dip that somehow managed to preserve itself in both idyllic ambience and communal grit.”
The 1860 map of the new Howard County shows Ellicott’s Mills as thick with commerce, from Thomas Gosnell’s general store at the top of the hill, down past the tailor’s, the dentist’s, the barber’s, the Howard House hotel, the Odd Fellows’ Hall, a bakery, and the millinery shop near the railroad station.
While there aren’t many stores offering hat-trimming or cupping and leeching nowadays, the storefronts have remained much as they were, with just a few coats of paint between 2022 and the 1800s. Every time the town flooded or burned, merchants showed up, cleaned up, and reopened. “This is the way we go on,” the poem’s last line reads.
Ehrhardt published his first collection of poetry, One of Us Is Real, in 2016, and his work has appeared in Little Patuxent Review, Tidal Basin Review, and Lines + Stars. He teaches English at Magruder High in Montgomery County and lives in Catonsville.
“Old Ellicott City, December” is published by permission of the author. © Scot Ehrhardt 2022.