Patapsco Female Institute

“My daughters, do something for your country by using the influence within your sphere, to allay the strife and contention which endangers its prosperity, honor, and the stability of its government.” – Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, Head Mistress of Patapsco Female Institute. (As quoted from the plaque in front of the building)

Upon the hill of Church Road sits the breathtaking site of the ruins from the once very active Patapsco Female Institute(PFI). Not much is left within the stone walls, not even a roof but in its years it was a very successful all girls school. Many speak of the schools wondrous history and its influence in the south, but behind the glory lays a sad, dark tale.

The Beginning of the Promising Institute
The school was built with 560 rooms in 1837 by Charles Timanus, the same builder behind Mt. Ida, and opened its doors two years later as an all girl school. The girls attending were from wealthy southern families whose ages ranged from twelve to eighteen years old. It was not until Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps became the headmistress in 1841 that the school became popular amongst the wealthy. Phelps was a teacher and an author who wrote many textbooks for the school. She would also inspect any magazines or newspapers the students read to assure it was not “improper reading material” for her girls. The school was a great success for the first few decades but once the civil war began enrollment started to decline and Patapsco was finally forced to close its doors in 1891.

The Winters at Patapsco
Despite its highly recognized reputation, the school had a hard time keeping warm during the winter. It’s reported that the basement was the coldest part of the entire school, but the girls were made to keep with the music lessons that took place there. Many students would get sick from living within the cold stone walls and a few of the illnesses even claimed lives. One student’s death in particular left the school with a heartbreaking ghost story.

Annie Van Derlot was also from a wealthy southern family. She was reportedly unhappy being sent to the Patapsco Female Institute, despite its favorable reputation. She would constantly write letters to her family, begging to return home. Not long into her first winter at the school, Annie became extremely ill and in a matter of days died of pneumonia at the school.

Classes Dismissed
James E. Tyson bought PFI the same year it was closed. His daughter Lilly, turned it into a summer retreat, naming it Berg Alnwick. During World War I, Lilly decided to use Berg Alnwick as a hospital, renaming it again to Maryland Women’s War Relief Hospital. In the mid 1930’s, Don Swann Jr. bought the school and turned it into Hilltop Theater, which stayed opened until World War II when it was finally forced to close for good. By the 1960’s the building was considered abandoned and eventually bought by Howard County.

Rising from Ruins
In 1965, a group named “Friends of Patapsco Female Institute” convinced Howard County not to demolish the building and started organizing it into a historical park. In 1976 the school was officially registered as a historical landmark with the National Register of Historical Places. The historic park officially opened in 1995, and began using the school ruins for a number of events such as archeological digs, ghost hunting, tours, weddings, and plays. Friends of PFI still own the school today, as well as another haunted building, Mt. Ida.

The Return of Annie
Patapsco Female Institute occasionally attracts the local thrill seekers and legend trippers. Being a huge abandoned building on the hill, it intices local teens just looking for something to get into. According to “The Daily Grind”,a local newspaper, a group of teens decided to sneak into the school one night to do some exploring. One girl unfortunately was separated from her friends and encountered an unforgettable experience. As she searched for her fellow trespassers, she saw a young girl dressed in white walking out onto the porch of the building. The girl proceeded down the steps and out onto the front lawn where she vanished in an instant. This story made its way around town fast and people started to believe the spirit was that of poor Annie Van Derlot, still searching for a way home. A few local ghost hunters claim to have evidence of her ghost existence, where as some longtime workers have yet to experience the presence of the deceased student.

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