A Brief History
William Patterson, the wealthy Baltimore shipbuilder made the 3000-acre Springfield Estate his country home. In 1803, Patterson’s daughter Elizabeth (Betsy) married Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon. Reluctantly, William consented to the marriage. In 1804, Napoleon declared the marriage illegal and ordered Jerome to return to France. Return he did with his new wife at his side, but Napoleon refused to let her land. Betsy returned to her father at Springfield, and in 1815 the State of Maryland granted her a divorce.
Horse Train Stop
Upon the death of William in 1824, his son George became the owner of the Springfield Estate. In 1825, George Patterson sold 1000 acres of the Springfield Estate to a business associate, James Sykes, of Baltimore, the man for whom Sykesville is named. One tract of land on the Howard County side of the Patapsco River contained an old combination saw and grist mill. Sykes soon replaced it with a newer and stronger building and in 1830 constructed a five-story stone hotel, consisting of 47 rooms, to take care of railroad personnel and the tourist trade from Baltimore. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad extended its “Old Main Line” through “Horse Train Stop” in 1831. The area was yet to be named “Sykesville.” Other businesses joined Sykes’s mill and hotel on the south side of the Patapsco River. Buildings included two general merchandising stores, other mills, churches, and a post office. Sykesville was a thriving commercial center and tourist resort.
A Growing Town
In 1835, Dr. Orrelana H. Owings built a large two-story stone store on Main Street for his son-in-law, Harry Miller. Today, the old stone store is owned by Scott Beck who established E.W. Beck’s, another downtown restaurant.
The Springfield Presbyterian Church predates the formation of Carroll County, having been established when Sykesville was still a part of Baltimore County. The church was built in 1836 on land donated by George Patterson. The first floor was used as a school for the Springfield Institute, the first organized school in Sykesville.
In 1845 Sykes enlarged his mill into “The Howard Cotton Factory” and also built homes for his employees on the same tract of land. The factory operated until the depression of 1857.
Civil War Era
During the Civil War, the Town was divided and young men fought on both sides of the conflict. On June 29th 1863, a detachment of Confederate Calvary under J.E.B. Stuart arrived in Sykesville. They tore up some railroad track, burned the bridge over the Patapsco and destroyed telegraph lines.
Most of the town was washed away during the flood of 1868 and recovery was slow, but with the steady stream of B & O traffic, the town was rebuilt on the Carroll County side of the Patapsco River. On a hill overlooking the town, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was built in time to see the lower portion of Sykesville swept away by the raging Patapsco. Stone for the church was supplied from the estate of Dr. Owings and the Brooks property across the river in Howard County.
Post Civil War
The Springfield estate, with its vast Patterson mansion, passed into the hands of Governor Frank Brown after the death of George Patterson, and during his governorship the Springfield State Hospital was established at Sykesville in 1896. The Springfield Hospital Center, as it is called today, was at one time the largest psychiatric hospital on the eastern seaboard.
In 1876, James Sykes was living in Elysville, Howard County. He visited Sykesville on April 1st of that year at the age of 85. James Sykes died May 30, 1881, at the age of 90. He is buried at Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore, along with his parents, sister and wife, Mary.
In 1883, the handsome B & O Railroad Station, a brick Queen Anne structure designed by E. Francis Baldwin, was built on the west side of Main Street along the Patapsco River.
In 1890, J. H. Fowble, architect and contracting builder, came to Sykesville. He was responsible for designing most of downtown Sykesville: the McDonald block, two brick bank buildings, the Wade H. D. Warfield building, the Arcade, and Kate McDonald’s residence on Main Street, the present Sykesville Town House.
Sykesville was incorporated 1n 1904 with Edwin M. Mellor Sr. as the first Mayor. In 1913, the Sykesville Herald was established as the town’s first newspaper.
During this time, The Town was split into “Wet” and “Dry” Factions due to the Prohibition Movement. The depression of 1929 hit the town hard and many families’ farms had to be sold. Sykesville was among the first places in the State to repeal Prohibition in 1933. Fire destroyed the town’s main business block in 1937. The coming of World War II lifted the town out of the depression.
Today, Sykesville is enjoying a renaissance and is preserving its rich and historic past.
Sykesville Main Street’s Historic Affiliations:
We are a part of Maryland’s Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area
We are on the National Register of Historic Places
Books About Sykesville’s History
Sykesville Past & Present A Walking Tour by Linda F. Greenberg
- Available at the Visitor’s Center and at the Sykesville Gate House Museum as well as at several Main Street businesses or
- . Read the
Stories About Sykesville’s History
Sykesville stories by Jack McBride White