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Main Attractions: Sykesville Brings Past and Present Together for the Coolest Small Town

Sykesville might not be Maryland’s biggest town, but it’s one of its most distinctive. In fact, in 2016, the small Carroll County town, separated from neighboring Howard County by just a length of historic railroad, was named America’s Coolest Small Town by Budget Travel.

Since becoming a Main Street Maryland community in 2011, the town has used associated funds from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to keep improving. Most recently, in FY17 the Main Street Association was the recipient of a $2,000 Keep Maryland Beautiful Clean Up & Green Up grant for expansion of a community garden. In FY16, the town used $50,000 in Community Legacy funds for façade improvements along Main Street. Another $7,500 from the Main Street Improvement Program was used for historic exhibits outside the Town House, which serves as Sykesville’s Town Hall, and Baldwin’s Station, a restaurant located inside the town’s former train station.

For Julie Della-Maria, the Sykesville Main Street Economic Director, one of the best things about the town is its sense of community. A mix of businesses and nonprofit organizations have come together and make the town unique.  “They can relate to what we’re doing. They feel that sense of community, and there’s pride in it,” she said. According to Della-Maria, the camaraderie among Sykesville’s residents is evident in the makeup of the people who run its Main Street program. With herself as the only exception, it is entirely volunteer-run.

Sykesville is a town rich in history, which attracts many of its visitors. Baldwin’s Station was a stop on the B&O Railroad’s Old Main Line, the country’s oldest railway. Festivals are also a big draw for the town. In November,  the town will host the Sykesville Craft Beer festival. A similar event last year had 34 breweries on site, and it is expected to draw even more this year. These events give residents “a chance to meet their neighbors and establish new connections,” said Della-Maria. Main Street is also home to a diverse selection of businesses, ranging from the recently opened Patapsco Distilling Company to antique stores, restaurants, and even a country-western store.

Having access to resources through the Main Street Maryland program has been invaluable for the town, Della-Maria said. As one of these communities, they receive “access to the coolest tools and training,”, along with the chance to network with representatives from other Main Street communities across the country. “We get to compare with other Main Streets to see what works, and make new contacts,” Della-Maria added. The annual conference in particular “is a way to learn new things. It’s a good way to see if our initiatives are in line with the trends and get to see what’s best, and get new ideas for new projects.” After these conferences, Della-Maria said the Main Street team works hard to implement what they learn to keep improving the town. From what she sees at community events and while out around town, it works: “It’s a sea of smiling faces.”

“Main Attractions” is a regular series highlighting Main Street Maryland communities. Main Street Maryland is a comprehensive downtown revitalization program created in 1998 by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. These communities receive assistance for improving the economy, appearance and image of their traditional downtown business districts. For more information on Main Street Maryland, visit