The Patapsco Valley is a tiny valley in central Maryland that is surrounded by the Patapsco River and its tributaries. A significant economic and industrial hub in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the region is well-known for its historical significance as a result.
John Smith was the first European to examine the river, and he named it the Bolus River on his 1612 map of the area. The “Red river,” so named because of the color of the clay, is regarded to be the “ancient Bolus” because other branches of the river were also labeled Bolus on maps. Because the river was not navigable beyond Elkridge, it was not a major route for commerce, with only one ship identified as serving the northern branch and four others operating around the mouth in 1723, according to the American Historical Society.
Click here for some more information on Ellicott City, Maryland. The Patapsco valley served as the route of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s initial main line west, which was constructed from 1829 to 1839. This route still exists, though it has been significantly altered. It was in the valley that many old railroad bridges were built. The most notable of these are the Thomas Viaduct and the Patterson Viaduct, both of which are now in ruins. Historically, the river provided electricity for flour mills and a hydroelectric dam.
Flooding occurs in the valley on a regular basis, though at irregular periods. In recent history, there was a flood in 1868 that washed away 14 houses and killed 39 people in the Ellicott City area. A flood in 1923 washed away bridges. Ellicott City was carried away by an eight-foot wall of water in 1952, and a flood at the Bartigis Brothers mill in 1956 caused extensive damage. In 1972, heavy rains from the leftovers of Hurricane Agnes caused significant damage to Ellicott City and the Old Main Line train, which was closed for many days.
Two major flood occurrences occurred in Ellicott City during the decade of the 2010s, one in 2016 and the other in 2018. Stormwater from the Tiber River and Hudson Branch tributaries of the Patapsco River flooded into the Patapsco River during these flood occurrences, which were also caused by heavy rains. Stormwater was forced to exit through the Main Street channel into the Patapsco during both storms because a large portion of Main Street was built on top of the natural flow of the Tiber River during the construction of Main Street. Numerous members of the community believe that the excessive quantity of impermeable surface and overdevelopment throughout the broader Ellicott City area is a contributing factor to these types of disasters.
The mouth of the Patapsco River produces Baltimore port, which was the scene of the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain. This is the location where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a poem that was eventually set to music and became the national anthem of the United States, while onboard a British ship. HMS Tonnant was anchored in this location for over a century, and today a red, white, and blue buoy marks the area. For more information be sure to check out The Shrine of St. Anthony.
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