A monthslong project to demolish four historic buildings in Old Ellicott City is nearly complete, a crucial part of the county’s plan to protect the city from dangerous flash floods while also preserving its history.

The four buildings were long the first many visitors saw as they headed west into Ellicott City down Main Street. They previously housed The Phoenix Emporium, Bean Hollow, Great Panes and Discoveries. Their exteriors are almost fully removed.

The current phase of the project, introduced after the deadly 2018 flood and called the Safe and Sound Plan, began in November 2023. It seeks to extend Tiber Park and clear the path to build two tunnels underneath the B&O Rail Museum to increase the flow of water into the Patapsco River, one of seven flood mitigation projects, Howard County Administrator Mark Miller said in an email.

The four buildings will be fully removed by the end of May.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The bridge welcoming visitors to Old Ellicott City is seen on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

The county worked with a historical preservation architect to determine items in each building that could be preserved, he said. Ironwork, granite, cornices and select doors and windows are among the items that will be salvaged and reused in a new location in the historic district.

Mark Hemmis, the owner of the Phoenix Emporium, who sold the business’ lease to the county in 2020, said many people thought demolition would involve a wrecking ball, but that wasn’t the case.

“They really kind of took these buildings apart brick-by-brick and tried to save a lot of the historical elements out of them, which was slow and gradual,” Hemmis said. “I drive by it every day on my way to work and watch it slowly come down.”

The county originally planned to demolish 10 buildings, with the other six to be renovated, County Executive Calvin Ball said in a January press release. Elected months after the 2018 disaster, Ball vowed to reshape the area to prevent future flooding, citing the need for greater safety and the importance of the city as an economic resource.

Another phase in the plan is the Extended North Tunnel, which will be just north of Main Street, Miller said. A tunnel-boring machine — which residents have voted on a new name for — will dig an 18-foot-wide tunnel that will carry flood waters to the Patapsco River.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

City officials previously said the North Tunnel would be completed in three to four years.

The 2018 disaster was the third time in recent decades that the city was the scene of dangerous floods, following 2011 and 2016. After Ellicott City was hit by deadly floods twice in two years, Bean Hollow permanently closed in 2018.

“After a lot of soul searching and a lot of heartbreak, we feel that as badly as we want to come back, we cannot in good conscience rebuild in E.C.,” the owner said in a 2018 Facebook post. “I’d never forgive myself if anything happened to one of my staff as a result of a flood, and there is nothing that can be done to fix the flood problem in the near future.”

Four historic buildings at the intersection of Maryland Avenue and Main Street in Ellicott City have been dismantled as part of an effort to control flooding. (Abby Zimmardi)

Great Panes, an art glass studio, and Discoveries, a gallery and boutique, both relocated, to Marriottsville and to further west along Main Street, respectively.

Hemmis bought The Phoenix Emporium in 2001, and it’s been a long-standing staple on Main Street in both locations.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

After the 2018 floods, The Phoenix Emporium closed its doors, and Hemmis purchased Ellicott Mills Brewing Company in 2019 and merged the businesses to create Phoenix Upper Main in 2020, Hemmis said. The new location is just farther west along Main Street.

He said the county was gracious in giving him ample opportunity to ask for things in the building that had sentimental value that he might want to keep.

Hemmis said there were items that he’s been trying to incorporate into the newer Phoenix location for a few years.

“There were doors and there was a partition in the middle where we had plaques for all the people who completed our beer club — we got those,” he said. “We got pieces of the bar, we got some pieces that weren’t historical but had sentimental value to our patrons.”

Abby Zimmardi is a reporter covering Howard County for The Baltimore Banner. Zimmardi earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in December 2022.

More From The Banner