Since I first started showing up here more than five years ago, I have become a big booster of Central New York and all things Syracuse. Nonetheless, I have often mentioned that I'm a Baltimore native and still have great affection for all things Bawlamer.
That's why it's been so painful for me to watch all the depressing videos of the recent flash flood in Ellicott City, Maryland. I know that town's Main Street. I know those buildings and landmarks.
I grew up on Baltimore's west side, and the hardest hit towns of Catonsville and Ellicott City were just a short drive or bus ride away from my old house. You might remember Catonsville as the home of the University of Maryland - Baltimore County, whose basketball team pulled off that monumental upset in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Catonsville had its own flooding issues, but nothing like Ellicott City.
Please let me offer a little history...
Ellicott City, Maryland started out as a mill town more than 200 years ago, and also became a railroad town with the arrival of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in the early 1800's. These were the economic backbone of the community for many years.
The mills are long gone, and the railroad's importance faded, although there is still a pretty big freight yard and switching complex just east of town. The passenger trains haven't stopped there in decades, and the historic train station became a museum and tourist information center.
The town struggled for years, but it had two things going for it: a picturesque location on a bluff overlooking the Patapsco River (with Main Street going down a steep hill to the riverside), and lots of beautiful historic buildings. It eventually became a community for artists and craftsmen, with the old storefronts becoming galleries, antique shops, boutiques, bistros, inns, and apartment spaces in beautiful restored buildings. It thrived a tourist attraction, with specialty shopping, food and drink, and a generally great setting for hanging out.
I was last there in 2014, when my wife and I got together with an old radio colleague and his wife. We had a great lunch at one of the many restaurants, and we did a little shopping; I bought some nice antique jewelry for Karen. A good time was had by all.
The first flash flood came in 2016, and as awful as that was, this latest one was even worse. I doubt that restaurant survived. I'm sure that jewelry boutique is gone; it was located at the bottom of the Main Street hill, where all the floodwaters ended up. A number of merchants and residents tried to hang on and rebuild after the 2016 disaster, but I've heard that many of these same folks have now given up. They can't risk going through this again.
The saddest thing about all this was that it was largely man-made, and largely preventable.
Ellicott City had suffered some flooding throughout its history, but it was typically from the bottom up. The Patapsco River would flood and inundate the area at the bottom of the hill, but residents knew how to deal with this and mitigate the damage.
However, the area surrounding the town has become part of the urban sprawl to the west and southwest of Baltimore. Farms, meadows, and woodlands have largely disappeared, to be replaced with shopping centers, apartment complexes, and suburban housing tracts. The natural watershed has been replaced by lots of asphalt, concrete, and very marginal -- and obviously inadequate -- storm drainage. When a storm system hits and hangs around, there's only one place for all that rain to go... down the hill, eventually right down Main Street. The results are horrific.
I was tempted to return and see how the community was recovering after the 2016 debacle, but I don't think I could go back and see Ellicott City after this one. It would be heartbreaking. Maybe they'll recover and rebuild someday -- with modern flood control in place -- but I'm afraid this is, truly, one of those circumstances where you can't go home again.
This is hard for me to watch: