Alberton Self-Guided Hike


3.6 miles

Along the abandoned Alberton Rd to the remains of the Daniels Textile factory and surrounding communities.

Leaves from Alberton parking lot. Must be parked in an eligible spot.

Stop 1: Entrance to trail (Alberton Rd.)

Human uses of and interactions with the natural environment in the Daniels Area have changed dramatically over the past two centuries.These changes largely reflect the human perception of how the valley is most useful to American Society. Nowhere is that change more prevalent and obvious than in the Daniels Area of the park. Along the hike, visitors will see an abandoned road, several abandoned vehicles, two abandoned churches, a ghost community and an abandoned factory. The following is an orientation to the history of American industry, and specifically the cotton textile industry, that helped shape and influence the uses of this landscape through the years.

Manufacturing products by machines increased productivity exponentially during the 19th century—a field that was pioneered by the British and largely perfected by Americans. Consider straightening out the fibers of a cotton ball to make a long continuous stream. How tedious would this be to make a shirt, or even a sock, by slowly making each string by hand then weaving them together into a cloth. Unless you took your time, how consistent would the thickness of your shirt be? Machines allowed something as simple as a cotton shirt to be manufactured in a much more efficient way. Cotton milling became one of the first major industries to employ machinery on a grand scale, whereby giant room-size machines were brought in and operated by an army of semi-skilled or unskilled workers.

Cotton mills first appeared in England in the 1780s, and then later were introduced in New England and the Americas in the early 1800s. The Oella Mill then known as the Union Manufacturing Company, was the first cotton mill in Maryland in 1808, and, within 20 years, it would be joined by a half dozen on a short stretch of the Patapsco from here at Daniels to Ilchester, seven miles down stream. The cotton milling community known as Daniels actually had three names over its history: Elysville, Alberton and finally Daniels.

By the time the Elysville Mill was founded in the 1830s by the Ely brothers, virtually the entire cloth-making process was automated after power looms upgraded the last step in the process, weaving, in the early part of the 19th century. Typically, when we think of textile workers, we think of large armies of unmarried young girls working long hours away from their families. The Lowell example in Massachusetts, so well documented, has largely cemented this image in our minds. Cotton mills, even in Lowell, however, employed a considerable number of men and boys, as well as a few, older, married women. Cotton manufacturing was broken down into many steps, and each specific step tended to attract a certain kind of worker. Picking and carding were largely engaged in by males, spinning and throttling were primarily female domains. Also, some steps in the process, even after all the mechanization, still required skilled laborers who earned respectable wages, such as the mule spinners- who were always adult males.

Though chronic labor shortage problems encouraged some early American mill companies to treat their work forces humanely, most cotton mills were relatively harsh places to work. Each mill in Maryland employed its own unique solution to attracting laborers. Some companies sought out female operatives from the surrounding farms, others brought in foreign laborers (such as the Irish) and others, still, enticed entire families from all over to join their workforce- negotiating wages with the families as a single unit. During its peak years in the late 19th century, the Alberton Company sought family units from western Virginia, and West Virginia, informing them that bananas were plentiful in the Patapsco Valley. The disappointed workers, after complaining about the lack of bananas, were told by mill manager Samuel Cobb that they didn't get up early enough and that the local monkeys had beat them to the punch.

Stop 2: Burnt out St. Stanislas Kostka Roman Catholic Church

Travel along the Alberton Road for a ½ mile until you see an unnamed white gravel road. Follow the gravel road to a large wire basket of rocks on your right. Take the path by this basket up to the church ruins. The habitat of the environment will change as you change elevation and climb to the church ruins. Different tree and plant species are seen. This is important not only to the wildlife, but also in how it has influenced settlement patterns as well. The St. Stanislas Church is one of three churches that were within the community of Daniels. The others are a Pentacostal Church, also in ruin, and the Gary United Methodist Church located on the Howard County side of the river and is still in operation today. St. Stanislas Church was founded in 1879, and this stone building was erected shortly after. The church’s priest used to skate down the river from Woodstock when the river was frozen during the winter months. The stone structure was struck by lightning in the 1920s, and a wooden structure was built nearby. This structure was used until the town of Daniels was bulldozed in the late 1960s. Consider why this church was placed on the hillside, while most of the communities from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were located lower in the valley, despite the threat of flooding. Churches are often built on high points of land with the philosophy that they are closer to the heavens and God. Look at the graveyard behind the church and observe the dates on the gravestone. Please do not touch or damage the stones. Considerable portions of the graves are those of children. Diseases among children in the United States were far more prevalent a century ago and that life with death was a constant reality- even for children and young parents.

Return from the church down the white gravel road to Alberton Road and turn right, traveling up river. About ¼ mile later on the right-hand side of Alberton Road is the site of the community of Guilford, a neighborhood within Daniels.

Stop 3: Abandoned community of Guilford

Daniels, like many of the factory towns along the Patapsco, was a company town. The company dominated life in it. It owned all property and was, for the most part, the only employer in the immediate vicinity. All the buildings in the town were owned by the company and rented out to its workers' families at a relative discount. By 1940 there were 118 dwellings on company land with an average of five rooms per house. The town was self-contained: it featured three churches, a general store, two schools (one for each county), a library, bowling alley and its own 20-man fire brigade.

Like many of the factories and communities along the Patapsco, the town of Daniels was split by the river and, therefore, was a part of two jurisdictions. While the factory was on the Howard County side of the river, this particular portion of Daniels on the Baltimore County side of the River was known as Guilford—named after the Howard County community where many of the town's original inhabitants had once lived before James S. Gary had moved his operation to Daniels in the 1850s.

Children here often played together during the summer, but were separated during the school year to attend separate schools. There was, however, a considerable amount of tension among the inhabitants of the various parts of the community. The people on the Howard County side tended to think of themselves as being superior to those living here on the Baltimore County side (and, for that matter, the people who lived on the higher ground on the Howard County side thought themselves superior to those living down closer to the mill). Much of this tension was good-natured for the most part, nevertheless, it was a part of life here in Daniels.

Continue up Alberton Road to the CSX Bridge and the ruins of the pedestrian bridge. These areas provide views across the river to the old Daniels Factory.

Stop 4: CSX Bridge over the river and road across from the ruins of the Daniels Factory, near ruins of the pedestrian bridge

This is the point at which hikers are as close to the old mill as reasonably possible. The view will be largely obscured when leaves are on the trees. The old factory can be viewed across the river during late fall through early spring.

The Daniels Mill, in fact, has been known by as many as three names: Elysville, Alberton and Daniels. The mill seat was originally called Elysville, after Thomas, Asher, Beale and Willam Ely, the founders of the mill in the late 1830s. The original cotton mill foundered and went through several owners during its first 20 years of operation—including the colorful corporate misadventure of the Okisko Company in 1845-49.

After the mill’s initial poor returns, the Ely brothers opted to sell out to another company, a new company named the Okisko Company, whose charter was identical to that of the Elysville Company, but was made up of a conglomeration of unrelated merchants and businessmen. Despite considerable capital investment in the factory, it continued to flounder. The Elysville Company, which continued to exist on paper, then took the Okisko Company to court, claiming that the company's president, Thomas Ely, did not have the authority to sell the mill in the first place. The court dismissed the Elysville claim and had the mill auctioned off in 1849. Hugh Ely then purchased the mill (he had left the family firm), and he immediately sued the Okisko Company for falsely advertising the mill's assets. That claim was also dismissed and the mill was then sold again.

During the next decade the mill went through several owners as its operation continued to limp along. Finally, in 1861, James Sullivan Gary purchased controlling interest in the mill and renamed it Alberton, after his corporate partner, Jacob Albert. Upon purchasing control of the mill, Gary hired long time mill superintendent Samuel Cobb. Under Cobb's direction, the mill began to prosper by manufacturing mostly canvas material for factory belts, mailbags and wagon covers. Like most Maryland cotton mills, the Alberton mill survived by finding a niche market where competition was relatively limited.

By 1915, the mill employed 400 workers and operated 14,000 cotton spindles (up from 170 and 3,000 in 1860, respectively). Like most corporate towns, Alberton was almost a completely self-contained operation. Except harvesting, of course, every stage of the cotton manufacturing process took place on the property, including picking, carding, spinning and weaving. The mill also included a woodshop, wheelhouse, belt house and heating plant. It is uncertain whether a machine shop was on the premises, though machine shops were almost a necessity during the 19th century. During the 20th century, the mill even generated its own electricity for both the factory and the town.

Continue on Alberton Road to the ruins of a white church on the right.

Stop 5: Ruins of Pentecostal Church

The Pentecostal Church was established late in the mill town's history, in 1940. The town's inhabitants dubbed this church the "Holy Roller'' church, because this particular congregation's followers were considerably more lively during their worship services than their Catholic and Methodists counterparts.

The ruins of the Pentecostal church provide evidence of the history of flooding in the Patapsco Valley, and Hurricane Agnes in particular. Most mills in the United States for much of the 19th century were primarily water-powered with occasional supplemental steam power. Being located near a river was almost a necessity for factories until the advent of electrical power during the turn of the 20th century. As a result, most factories took a considerable risk because the threat of flooding was a constant hazard that really could not be prevented. The Daniels Mill, despite sitting on a peninsula of the river, managed to survive many considerable floods in its history, including the disastrous flood of 1868. In 1972, however, the mill's innards were practically destroyed. A family had to be airlifted from the bell tower of the main mill building during the peak of the flood.

After the flood of Agnes, rivers valleys were no longer valued solely as a place for industry, but are now primarily valued as a place for recreation. The river was looked upon as a source of industrial entrepreneurship during the 19th century, however, with the advent of electrical power, the need for factories to be near a source of water power has declined dramatically. In fact, because of the threat of flooding, being located near a river is now more of a liability for factory owners, not an asset. Therefore, over the past century, our society has altered its view of the river valley. The valley is now valued as a source of respite, relaxation and recreation. While the valley was always used for recreation by the inhabitants of the small towns along the river, the establishment of the Patapsco Forest Reserve in 1906, the immediate ancestor of today's Patapsco Valley State Park, provided for recreation by the general public.

Continue about another ¼ mile to the old railroad right of way.

Stop 6: Dam overlook and old railroad right of way

At the CSX railroad right of way, hikers can view the 15-foot tall Daniels Dam and what remains of the town of Daniels in Howard County. Railroads were also important in the shipping of factory products to markets in Baltimore and points west in the Ohio Valley. River valleys provided the easiest terrain for railroads to traverse, making river valleys the ideal place for industrial development in the 19th century.

The view from this right of way also provides a look at the impoundment behind the dam, a place where the citizens of Daniels enjoyed swimming and fishing for centuries and a place where these activities plus canoeing and kayaking are frequently enjoyed today.

The trail continues up-river for several more miles. This historical tour ends at the view of the dam. Visitors should return via the same path on which they came.

Click here to return to the Activities Page.

Click here to return to the Patapsco Main Page​.