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Ellicott City

Visitors have been coming to this tiny Patapsco River town, 14 miles from Baltimore, for 230 years. The town was built to support the Ellicott brothers' mill, the largest flour-milling center in Colonial America. In 1831, America's first railroad terminal was constructed here and still stands today. It was also here that the Tom Thumb, Peter Cooper's steam engine, raced and beat a horse-drawn vehicle. The country's first national road also ran through Ellicott City and gave farmers a route to the Atlantic.

Step back and look at the solid stone buildings still lining Main Street. The inns built in the 1800s remain -- even the Colonial Inn and Opera House (now the Forget-Me-Not Factory), where John Wilkes Booth, it is said, got his start as an actor. Over the years, the town has endured fires, floods, and hurricanes. Through it all, it has survived, and its history and charm continue to draw visitors.

Getting There -- From Route 70, take Route 29 South to Route 40 East. Turn right on Rogers Avenue and right again on Courthouse Drive, which ends at Main Street (Rte. 144). Turn left into the historic district. From the Beltway (Rte. 695), either take Route 70 West and follow the above directions or take Route 40 West and turn left on Rogers Avenue, right on Courthouse Drive, and left on Main Street.

Visitor Information -- The visitor center, at 8267 Main St. (tel. 410/313-1900), is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm, Sunday from noon to 5pm. Look for the side entrance on Hamilton Street. You'll find a great self-guided walking tour brochure that offers some insight into the buildings' history.

Parking -- If you look hard, you can find parking spaces in lots marked with blue "P" signs. There are metered lots off Main Street near the visitor center, down a driveway under the railroad bridge, and on Maryland Avenue near the Ellicott City B&O Railroad Museum. You can get change for the meters at the visitor center or the railroad museum. (If the parking space is lined in yellow, you have to pay; it's free if the space is white.) Warning: On-street parking, though not metered, has a 1- or 2-hour limit between 10am and 6pm -- and cars are ticketed for staying too long.

Some lots are free: The Oella lot is across the Patapsco River Bridge near the Trolley Stop restaurant. Another free lot is down a driveway on Ellicott Mills Drive. Finally, the two lots at the courthouse, 2 blocks from the historic district, have 200 free spaces. The walk is short, though uphill on the way back to your car. A good brochure from the visitor center explains where and how to park.

Where to Dine

Ellicott City has 17 restaurants crammed along its narrow streets. For traditional French, don't miss the wonderful Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant, 8293 Main St. (tel. 410/465-4004; www.tersiguels.com). La Palapa Grill & Cantina, 8307 Main St. (tel. 410/465-0070; www.lapalapagrill.com), serves Mexican in a gaily decorated atmosphere. Cacao Lane Restaurant, 8066 Main St. (tel. 410/461-1378; www.cacaolane.net), is a casual spot with a Continental menu. Light-rock musicians perform Friday and Saturday evenings. The Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, 8308 Main St. (tel. 410/313-8141; www.ellicottmillsbrewing.com), brews its own beer to accompany the German and pub-style entrees.

What to See & Do

"Ye Haunted History of Old Ellicott City" tours are offered April through November, Friday and Saturday at 8:30pm. Reservations are essential; call tel. 800/288-8747.

The B&O Railroad Museum: Ellicott City Station, 2711 Maryland Ave. (tel. 410/313-1413; www.ecborail.org), America's oldest train station, houses artifacts and model trains. Annie Oakley and Charles Dickens once passed through here. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Admission is $5 adults, $3 for children.

The Thomas Isaac Log Cabin, 8398 Main St. (www.thomasisaaclogcabin.net), a settler's cabin, was built about 1780 -- making it the town's oldest residence (Fri-Sat and Mon 1-6pm and Sun noon-5pm).

Just down Frederick Road -- called Main Street in the historic district -- is Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, 300 Oella Ave. (tel. 410/887-1081). Dedicated to the first African-American "man of science," the modern museum has interactive exhibits about Banneker, who surveyed the land for construction of Washington, D.C. The park has added a log cabin, simulating Banneker's house, as well as lots of green space and nature trails. It's open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm; a $3 donation is suggested. Take Frederick Road east across Patapsco River Bridge; turn left at Oella Avenue.

Shopping

Most people come to shop at the antiques and gift stores that line Main Street and the side streets. Hours are usually 10am to 6pm; stores close on Monday or Tuesday.

For home decor, stop at Cottage Antiques, 8181 Main St. (tel. 410/465-1412); Joan Eve, 8018 Main St. (tel. 410/750-1210); Taylor's Antique Mall, 8197 Main St. (tel. 410/465-4444); and Su Casa, 8307 Main St. (tel. 410/465-4100).

Ellicott's Country Store, 8180 Main St. (tel. 410/465-4482), is worth a visit for the architecture -- it's considered the oldest duplex in the country. Handcrafted gifts are featured at Discoveries, 8055 Main St. (tel. 410/461-9600).

The Forget-Me-Not Factory, 8044 Main St. (tel. 410/465-7355), stocks magic wands and fairy wings. Musicians and coffee addicts alike will enjoy Clef Notes Music and Cafe, 8381 Merryman St. (tel. 410/461-6709), which serves sheet music with its lattes.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.