The Patapsco

Captain John Smith, when exploring the Patapsco River in 1608, proclaimed, “Heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.”

The waters of the Patapsco River and the well-framed place for living drew the Ellicott brothers to The Hollow. The river’s rapids created the perfect energy source for their grist and saw mills.

The same river inspired Baltimore writer Charles Soranto reminisce fondly about his childhood launching boats with handkerchief sails, and to praise the river’s beauty. He ends his poem with a vision of himself being welcomed into heaven’s arms, seeing his own life reflected in “memory’s mirror,” the Patapsco River.

This excerpt conveys his joy at seeing the river, and in the second stanza, imagines the river as a bridegroom running tohis bride, the city of Baltimore. Water from Ellicott’s Mills races through the town and, in the Ellicott brothers’ time, downstream to Elk Ridge Landing, a large colonial deep-water port that later silted up, thanks to erosion when trees were felled along the river.

More than 14,000 acres of the Patapsco Valley were preserved starting in the early 1900s when a group of Baltimore landowners donated farmland and riverbank. After Bloede’s Dam was builtin 1906, a Forestry Act passed to protect the forest and water resources of the area. The Patapsco Forest Reserve eventually became Patapsco Valley State Park, Maryland’s oldest state park, the site of some of Maryland’s earliest mills and factories.

Bloede’s Dam, the first in the world to house the turbines inside the dam underwater, provided power to Catonsville and Howard County until it went dormant in 1924. The dam was torn down in 2018 to restore the river’s environment, to help migratory fish like shad and herring, and to remove a dangerous concrete structure.

Now the Patapsco’s waters run freely from the Daniels Dam seventeen miles downstream to Baltimore’s harbor, as they did in Charles Soran’s day.

The Patapsco
by Charles Soran

My own—my native river
Thou flashest to the day—
And gatherest up thy waters
In glittering array;
The spirits of thy bosom
Are waking from their rest,
And O! their shouts are banishing
Sad feelings from my breast.
Away—away thou boundest;
Away in glorious pride,
To yon fair city’s bosom,
Like a bridegroom to his bride;
While she holds out her arms, thy glad
Embraces to receive,
And echoeth to yon blue sky
The songs thy waters weave.

An excerpt from “The Patapsco,” from The Patapsco and Other Poems by Charles Soran. Published in 1842. This poem is in the public domain.

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