Patapsco Female Institute

Patapsco Female Institute

The Patapsco Female Institute was opened in Ellicott City, Maryland in 1837. When the school first opened its doors to young girls aged 12 to 18 from mostly wealthy families, it was quite extraordinary.

Adorned with beautiful tapestries and imported furniture, the atmosphere radiated elegance. The floors were made of lovely hardwoods, and the walls of yellow granite. A grand ballroom was located in the west wing. The amazing view from the top of the hill was gorgeous, as it included the Patapsco River Valley.

One would think that these little rich girls would have been well cared for in the Institute. Evidently, that was not always the case. With its cold stone walls, and without indoor bathrooms, there was much sickness at the school.

Many of the young female students died, including Annie Van Derlot, the daughter of a wealthy southern plantation owner, who died of pneumonia during her first winter at the school. One source reports that she died December 31, 1879. Evidently, Annie never left.

The Ellicott City tourism site does indicate that “Overall, according to their diaries and letters, these young ladies admired and respected . . . their teachers.”

Annie Van Derlot was very unhappy at the school, even before her illness. She wrote home often telling her family of her dissatisfaction with the small town, and mentioned her "incarceration" at the school. Her father was on his way to bring her home, when she passed away.

The Civil War was responsible for many changes in the families of these southern girls. These changes, the competition from public schools which first started appearing in the area in the late 1860s, as well as the property not being kept up to its previous standards, all began to take a toll on enrollment, which continued to decrease, and the school was forced to close in 1891.

Mr. James E. Tyson bought the building soon afterwards, and added a big, roomy porch and a fabulous swimming pool.

A decade and a half later, Lilly Tyson from England purchased the place and called it Bern Alwick.

A short time later, in 1917, the school was used as a small hospital for wounded men in WWI.

The institute has changed hands several times over the years, and was also an outdoor summer theater, and a nursing home.

Since her death many years ago, Annie Van Derlot has been seen often at the old school, wandering the ruins even to this day.

One witness, who went sledding near the old institute as a child one winter in the early 1980s, stated that he saw Annie dressed in old-fashioned clothing, standing near some large trees watching him and his family. She radiated sadness and despair.

For an interesting photo of a little girl who might be Annie, check out:

Currently, the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park Visitor Center is open for tours and special events by calling 410-465-8500.


Belanger, Jeff. Encyclopedia of Haunted Places. Franklin, NJ: New page Books, 2009.

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