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Old Howard County Courthouse

The former Howard County Circuit Courthouse, located in the county seat, Ellicott City, Maryland, was recently replaced by a newer version at another location in the city. The old courthouse is situated on top of a hill with steep slopes, and from the right viewpoint you can see much of the city. Howard County was established later than other Maryland counties, being first part of Baltimore County, then part of Anne Arundel County as the Howard District, before being established as its own county in 1850. The county purchased the land for the first courthouse from Deborah Disney, a local tavern owner, in 1840. Charles Timanus started building in 1841 and the courthouse opened in 1843. It is made of local granite, a feature of many of the city’s buildings, and has Greek Revival details (cornices, pilasters, etc.) and a cupola.

                        Howard County Courthouse, Maryland [photo by Rebecca Raupach, December 2021]

The courthouse was already outgrowing its location when an addition was built on the rear of the courthouse by G. Corner Fenhagen and Riggin Buckler of Fenhagen & Buckler, well-known Baltimore architects, in 1938. The newer section is long and low, built of cut limestone, and added much-needed space, while at the same time being placed away from the front view of the older part. The addition allowed the county to keep the old courthouse in use until the new replacement was opened in July 2021. The old courthouse is notable as a historical landmark for this reason; it was in continuous operation for county business for almost two centuries. It is certain that the new version is more spacious, but the sense of history will not be there.

            Howard County Courthouse 1938 addition [photo by Rebecca Raupach, December 2021]

Not only is the courthouse imbued with history, but the old county jail, located next to the newer addition, is rich with national, not just local, history as well. The Maryland General Assembly passed an act authorizing the Howard District to levy taxes to build the jail. It was built in 1851 and was in continuous use as a jail until the early 1980s. On a cold, damp December day it looks like a Dickensian workhouse. From November 1852 until the end of slavery in Maryland on November 1, 1864, the jail was used to hold those enslaved people attempting to escape and also anyone who was charged with aiding or encouraging enslaved people to escape.

                     Old Howard County Jail, ca. 1851 [photo by Rebecca Raupach, December 2021]

                  Howard County Jail Network to Freedom NPS sign [photo by Rebecca Raupach]

 

Additional Sources

CD3280 .A16 no. 12-13 Radoff, Morris Leon. The county courthouses and records of Maryland.

F189.E4 K873 2009 Kusterer, Janet P. and Victoria Goeller. Remembering Ellicott city : stories from the Patapsco River Valley.

F187.Η8 Η64 Holland, Celia M. Landmarks of Howard County, Maryland: a bicentennial presentation.

F187.H8 C67 1986 Cornelison, Alice. History of Blacks in Howard County, Maryland: oral history, schooling, and contemporary issues.

F187.H8 S44 2002 Moss, Paulina C. and Levirn Hill, eds. Seeking freedom: a history of the underground railroad in Howard County, Maryland

F187.H8 S76 Stein, Charles Francis. Origin and history of Howard County, Maryland.

One Comment

  1. Leslie M Stewart
    March 20, 2022 at 2:54 pm

    Thank you for these photos and history. I grew up in Carroll County, MD, and remember Ellicott City (and that steep hill) but don’t remember these buildings.

    However, they are very similar to many others in the area, built with the same granite or limestone (my high school in Catonsville used the limestone).

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