The revitalization of an historic jail in Howard County, Maryland, is now entering its next phase as the project is awarded a major state grant.
The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development has awarded $250,000 to nonprofit Preservation Maryland to partner with Howard County on revitalizing the Ellicott City Jail.
The jail, which sits on Emory Street above Main Street, was built in 1850. It has a long and sometimes uncomfortable history.
“There were at least two lynchings that took place there. One in 1885, and one in 1895. There was an attempted lynching there in 1922,” said Stephen McKenna, a board member with Preservation Howard County.
There were a significant number of executions at the jail, “which was not supposed to be happening,” he said.
McKenna has done extensive research on the jail and says he hopes the history of the building is showcased in its revitalization.
“We are of the strong view — along with other preservationists and historians groups like Preservation Maryland — that it should not be turned into a commercial facility, a pizza parlor, a beer hall, a trinket shop, or anything like that,” McKenna said. “We just feel that it has to be repurposed in a historically appropriate way. Something that will be respectful of that troubling past.”
Ideally, he says, it would become, at least partially, a museum and memorial space.
Officials from Howard County have welcomed the opportunity to turn the old jail into a place to examine part of the area’s history.
“As we explored plans to reuse the historic courthouse in Ellicott City, it became clear that the old jail on the adjacent property provided a unique opportunity to preserve and examine a piece of our history,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball in a news release.
“This grant award is a great first step in the process, and we’re grateful to Preservation Maryland for their partnership on this effort and commitment to moving this project forward.”
While the grant supports initial design services and stabilization, Preservation Maryland plans to utilize state, federal and private funds to further the restoration.
The organization is currently pursuing a bond bill sponsored by Maryland State Sen. Katie Fry Hester, D-Howard, in the amount of $500,000 in the 2022 Legislative Session.
Preservation Maryland President and CEO Nicholas Redding thinks revitalizing the city’s old jail — and learning about the history surrounding it — provides an opportunity for the community to grow.
“We are thrilled to receive this grant to help us explore ways to use this space that best address some of Ellicott City’s biggest challenges, including respecting the need to preserve historic assets — some of which have challenging histories — while acknowledging a changing climate,” Redding said.