The Patapsco Valley: First in Innovation and conservation


For more than 200 years, the Patapsco Valley has been the focal point for historic events and scientific advantages that have transformed Maryland and the nation.

The Valley, and the Patapsco River that shaped it, harbored communities from the first settlements of the Delaware tribe to historic towns like Ellicott City and Elkridge that sprouted along the river in support of the earliest industrial development in America. The Valley’s rich farm and rural lands and historic travel routes of road, river and rail created an environment that fostered innovation and transformation. It attracted bright minds and willing hands, which helped seal the Patapsco Valley’s reputation of being a “valley of firsts”.

The First Tech Corridor

Today, when we talk about technology corridors, we think of Silicon Valley in California or Route 128 in Massachusetts, but the Patapsco Valley can lay claim to being the first tech corridor in the new nation.

On May 24, 1844 Samuel F.B. Morse sent the first telegraphic message, “What hath God wrought?” along an experimental line from Washington D.C. to Baltimore that crossed the Patapsco River Valley and the Thomas Viaduct bridge.

Firsts in technology and engineering included:

  • the first successful steam- powered boat in the U.S.
  • the first African-American astronomer, Benjamin Banneker
  • the world’s first multi-arched, stone railroad bridge designed on a curve, the Thomas Viaduct, now a national landmark
  • Bloede Dam, the world’s first underwater hydro-electric plant.

First in Transporation

The burgeoning population of the Patapsco Valley demanded innovation in transportation so that farmers, millers and manufacturers could get the raw materials needed for production as well as transport their finished products first to Elkridge Landing and later to Baltimore for sale and shipment around the world.

Transportation firsts to meet those needs included:

  • the first-federally funded interstate known as the National Road
  • the first commercial railroad in America, the B&O
  • the first railway depot in the world, Ellicott Mills- now a national landmark
  • the Tom Thumb, the first successful steam engine in the U.S.

First in Conservation

Even as industrialization shaped the region, the Patapsco Valley became a leader in conservation. The abundant natural resources centered on the Patapsco River and spreading outward along its tributaries included great stands of forests, outcroppings of granite and diverse plant and animal life. Recognized by the Olmstead brothers as a “greenway” in a rapidly developing corridor, the Valley was at the forefront of the conservation movement.

  • In the mid- 1800’s the first fish ladder in Maryland was constructed at the Orange Grove Flour Mill.
  • In 1907, the Patapsco Valley State Park was created as the first state park in Maryland. Expanded over the years from its original grant of 43 acres, the Patapsco Valley State Park now extends along 32 miles of the Patapsco River, encompassing 16,043 acres.

Preserve. Protect. Interpret. Restore.

Patapsco Heritage Greenway, the managing organization of the Patapsco Valley Heritage Area, is dedicated to preserving, protecting, interpreting, and restoring the environment, history and culture of Maryland’s most dramatic river valley for the enjoyment of all.