Exactly what is it about Ellicott City that captivates people?

The same natural beauty that attracted the Ellicott Brothers when they were looking for a place to settle in 1772.

Carved between a rock and a river, Main Street Ellicott City gently winds its way past quaint shops, galleries, boutiques and restaurants while offering charming views of tiny pocket gardens at street level and church steeples and architecturally interesting roof lines overhead.

Ellicott City has been a work in progress for nearly 200 years and continues to blend new features against an old backdrop. Serving as the county seat for Howard County adds a certain amount of bustle to the town, with an historic courthouse perched atop Court Avenue. A new stairway connector (from Parking Lot E on Main Street) leads to additional parking at the courthouse lot, which boosts the many free parking options on-street or in one of the six public lots.

Paying tribute to what Ellicott City was in the past are several museums and historic properties, like the B & O Railroad Museum, the Heritage Orientation Center, the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin, The Firehouse Museum and the old Post Office building, which now houses the Howard County Tourism Welcome Center. Hours of operation vary by season, so it is always a good idea to check in advance — except for the Welcome Center, which is open seven days a week throughout the year.

Ellicott City rolls out the red carpet to visitors each April, with monthly celebrations (First Fridays and Girls Night Out), and continues entertaining crowds throughout the year with annual spring, fall and holiday festivals, including Hills of Milltown 5K Challenge, Spring Fest, Main Street Music Fest, ArtWalk, HallowRead and Midnight Madness. This year, a new event will be added to the calendar in November with a Main Street parade honoring veterans and members of the Armed Forces.

Available on a daily basis are plenty of shopping options, ranging from handmade chocolates to handmade razor handles. Many artists and artisans have joined the antique stores, specialty boutiques, salons and restaurants that together provide a unique downtown destination to explore.

Visitors to Ellicott City now enjoy free Wi-Fi throughout town. This is yet another example of how the past and present are intertwined in this former mill town.

See for yourself why Ellicott City made it to the top of the list as one of the Best Main Streets in America, according to Parade Magazine (2014).

Debra Korb is executive director of The Ellicott City Partnership (ECP, ecpartnership.org), whose mission is to preserve the heritage and vitality of Historic Ellicott City while maintaining and creating economic growth. She can be reached at 443-240-2060 and dkorb@ecpartnership.org.