Elkridge, the oldest settlement in Howard County, Maryland, began in colonial times as early as 1687. In 1743 Caleb and Edward Dorsey were granted patents to the land known as Elk Ridge Landing. The Dorseys obtained the land to establish a commerce center at the point where the “Patapsco River’s rocky cascade empties into a deep and slow moving navigable channel .” The venture was initially successful with shipments of hogsheads of tobacco, pig iron and grain making their way from the Valley through Baltimore to England and the Caribbean.
Tobacco, the gold of its time, was the first major export commodity from the Patapsco Valley. Tobacco was pressed into one thousand pound barrels (called hogsheads) which were then pulled (rolled) by oxen or horses down “rolling roads” to Elk Ridge Landing for export. Rolling Road in Catonsville is one of those surviving roads.
By the 1750s, the soil of much of the land under tobacco cultivation was depleted. British agents, who controlled tobacco prices before the Revolutionary War, were also limiting grower’s profits. The time was ripe for the introduction of grain products into the region’s economy.
Captain John Smith observed “red soil” along the banks of the Patapsco in the early part of the seventeenth century. The abundance of forests for charcoal and oyster shells for lime made the Chesapeake Bay area a major producer of iron for Great Britain. The earliest iron furnaces in the Patapsco Valley were located nearby Elk Ridge Landing.
Elkridge Furnace – 1755
Hockley Forge – 1760
Dorsey Forge – 1761
Other forges also began operation in Avalon and Ellicott Mills. Just prior to the Revolutionary War, these forges began to refine the pig iron into iron suitable for manufacturing finished iron products. Still later, slitting mills produced nails and nail rods while rolling mills produced sheet metal. Iron production continued in the Patapsco Valley until floods devastated many of the industries along the river shortly after the Civil War.
(See Chapter 2 of The Patapsco River Valley – Cradle of the Industrial Revolution in Maryland, by Hal Sharp for specific details, maps and early furnace locations.)
Erosion from the iron strip mining along the River and the logging of the steep Valley slopes eventually silted in the harbor at Elk Ridge Landing and the shipping point moved further downstream to the present day Baltimore harbor.
The Great Falls of the Patapsco, located just up river from Elk Ridge Landing, once prevented further navigation up the Patapsco River when the Valley was first settled. The same soil erosion from cultivation, mining and logging operations that led to the silting-in of the harbor at Elk Ridge Landing also buried the Great Falls. A sign at the intersection of the Patapsco Valley State Park entrance road and Gun Road in the Avalon/Orange Grove section gives the approximate location of where the falls are believed to be buried.
Of Additional Interest
Preserve. Protect. Interpret. Restore.
Patapsco Heritage Greenway, the non-profit 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.