In the early days of steam power, when the railroad locomotive was rather new in the U.S., a famous race was run between a gray horse and an 'iron horse,' which the gray horse won.
It became a famous race, and in Maryland they still tell the story. The date was August 28, 1830, the day when a new small locomotive, the Tom Thumb, was being given its first run on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
Attached to the Tom Thumb was an open car, and in the car were directors of the B & O and their friends, on the way from Baltimore to Ellicott City for this debut. The unplanned race began near Ellicott City. Here is the story, from a historical account:
Andrew Ellicott, who is honored as a historic personage in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, founded a town in Maryland with his brothers, Joseph and John.
Ellicott City grew from the farm which the brothers created on the shores of the Patapsco River after their purchase of 700 acres in 1772 nearly 20 years before Andrew became a resident of Lancaster.
The Howard District of Ann Arundel County was formed in 1840 with judicial powers, county commissioners, a sheriff and other regular officers, but without representation as a separate county. Ellicott Mills easily won the honor of becoming the site of the Court House for the new district. In 1851 the district became Howard County, named after John Eager Howard. A city charter was secured for Ellicott Mills in 1867 and the name was changed to Ellicott City.
Today Ellicott City is a delightful place to visit, a place southwest of Baltimore with a story encompassing many American generations.
The three Quaker Ellicott brothers paid $3.00 an acre for their land, in order to grow wheat and build a mill to grind it. They were men of genius and resourcefulness, aided financially by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
After they got started with wheat production, farmers no longer had to rely on tobacco for their sole cash crop. The Ellicotts built roads, bridges and a wharf in Baltimore so that they could more readily send their products abroad.
They introduced the wagon brake, and pioneered in use of plaster for fertilizer; built ironworks, a furnace and rolling mills, setting the foundation for Ellicott Mills' growing reputation as an industrial center.
To enhance community life, they built schools, stores and houses from granite quarried nearby, along with a Quaker meetinghouse. Andrew, as Lancastrians know, was a skilled engineer. His brothers showed matching proficiency.
Coming of the railroad brought new distinction to Ellicott City. Construction of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, a pioneer line, began in 1828 and in 1831 Ellicott City became the first terminus for any railroad in America. There were only 13 miles of track, but in those days that was a lot of track. No other railroad could make that claim.
The stone building which was the first station is still standing, and is being restored to house one of the most complete American railroad libraries and museums in the country. It contains a visitor's center to provide information, and a gift shop.
In the restored brick freight building, you can see a re-creation of the first 13 miles of track, with an HO gauge model layout in a setting of the 1830s. A sight and sound show is offered here.
Both the passenger and the freight station have been given National Landmark status.
Between the two buildings is the turntable area, where trains would be turned in order to make the return trip to Baltimore. The area is now partially uncovered through archaeological digging.
Visitors are given a guided tour through the station en route to the freight house. They may also climb aboard a recently acquired 1927 B&O wooden caboose.
The restoration is a project of Howard County and Historic Ellicott City, Inc., a non-profit community organization.
Ellicott City has another claim to fame. It was the site of a famous race between the small Tom Thumb locomotive and a horse. The race took place August 28, 1830. An open car was attached to the Tom Thumb, since this was the first day the trip was made by steam. The directors and their friends were in the open car on a happy excursion.
'As the engine approached Relay House, named for relays of horses trotting cars from place to place, a car owned by Stockton and Stokes, the great stage proprietors of the day, was being pulled toward Baltimore on the second track by a gallant gray beauty.
'It was here, in this mood of frivolity, that the race between animal and 'iron horse' began. With a snort of the horse and a puff of the engine, the horse got off ahead. Finally, as the engine's steam came up, the 'Tom Thumb' overtook the horse and with a cheer from those aboard, the gray was passed.
'Its driver, being outdistanced, was ready to concede victory to the steam-puffing monster when a band slipped from the drum used to drive the pulley on the blower. The engine ceased to scream and panted as if out of breath and the gray horse, now encouraged by its driver surged ahead. The horse had won this contest. 'Photo courtesy of B.&O. RR Station Museum, Ellicott City, Md.