ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Today, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and Department of Recreation & Parks Director A. Raul Delerme joined local and state dignitaries for a ribbon-cutting to unveil a new garden at the Patapsco Female Institute (PFI) that serves as a historic representation of the grounds when it was a school more than 170 years ago. Photos of the event can be found here.
The plants and flowers were chosen after a scrapbook of pressed flowers (known as an herbarium) from former student Mary Jerdone Coleman was uncovered at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture by a Howard County researcher. Coleman attended PFI from 1848-1850. The scrapbook was likely part of a class assignment to help students get hands-on experience with plants growing on the school grounds.
This new garden is a creative and interactive way to teach the history of the Patapsco Female Institute to our community. Thanks to the hard work of our Recreation and Parks team, the PFI is in full bloom for our residents and visitors to enjoy.
Though not an exact replica, this garden includes modern varieties of plants that were growing at the school when Coleman created her herbarium. The garden is located near the front of PFI and will include a sign to tell the story behind its creation.
“This garden brings history back to life,” Delerme said. “Every year, hundreds of local children visit PFI as part of a field trip of historic spots in Ellicott City. Since botany was a major part of the curriculum at PFI, this is the perfect learning tool for generations to come.”
The new garden is a partnership between Howard County Recreation & Parks, the Garden Club of Howard County and EC250, a group formed to commemorate the 250th anniversary of historic Ellicott City. The garden club helped plan and plant the garden, which will now be maintained by county staff.
“This no-place-else town in our 250th year truly has something for every one of us to celebrate,” said Councilmember Liz Walsh, D1. “This morning, old Ellicott City is for people who plant, who like to get their hands dirty, for optimists. Nestled back by the ruins under the boughs of an elder black walnut, this old garden grows again.”
"We are so grateful to our partners who made this lovely interpretive garden a reality for Ellicott City's sestercentennial celebration,” said Victoria Goodman, a member of the EC250 Inc. Board of Directors. “It is a living testament to the teachings of renowned botanist Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, the institute's most noted principal and so appropriate that her story be told in a way that reflects her passion for plants and education."
Perched at Ellicott City’s highest point, the Patapsco Female Institute offered a revolutionary curriculum to young women from 1837-1891. The school earned a national reputation for its inclusion of botany, chemistry, and mathematics in a time where it was believed that women could not learn such subjects.
Since the school’s closure circa 1891, the site lived other lives as a summer resort hotel, a private residence, the Hilltop Theatre (Maryland's first summer stock theater), and a nursing home first known as the Brennan Convalescent Home and later Highland Manor. A long period of vacancy with an absentee owner led to the building's gradual deterioration. The Friends of the Patapsco Female Institute formed in 1965 as a grassroots organization to save the site from further decay. Thanks to their efforts and partnership with Howard County, the ruins of this grand example of Greek-revival architecture were stabilized and restored in 1995. Since Howard County Recreation & Parks has taken over ownership, renovation and preservation efforts continue. The county’s 2023 budget includes plans to construct a concrete roof deck above the chapel area, restroom facility, exhibit room, and staff office. The renovation will also create a shelter-in-place area for events.