The legend of The Hell House College of St Mary’s
Hell House College is the nickname given to St. Mary’s College in Ilchester, Maryland (The college is also sometimes referred to as ‘Creepy College’). This college was originally set up as a Roman Catholic seminary during the 19 th century, and was closed about a century later. This college gained its nickname as a result of the numerous legends / rumors surrounding the institution, which include stories of satanic worship and ghosts.
Hell House College is located on a granite cliff overlooking the Patapsco River in Ilchester, Maryland. In 1830, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was opened, and George Ellicott, Jr. (whose father, Andrew Ellicott, was one of the founders of Ellicott Mills, later re-named as Ellicott City) decided to turn his homestead in Ilchester into a hotel and tavern. The entrepreneur had thought that the trains would stop at Ilchester, and that passengers would patronize his establishment. Unfortunately for Ellicott, Ellicott Mills was chosen as the main stop in that area, which meant that very few people came to Ilchester.
Location of Ellicott City, Maryland ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The enterprise failed, and Ellicott decided to sell his property. The businessman struggled for several years to find a buyer for his land. Eventually, it was bought over in 1866 by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, a Roman Catholic missionary congregation better known as the Redeptorists, who intended to turn the property into a seminary. The purchase was made on the 12 th of June, and the first Mass was said on the 28 th of August on the third floor of Ellicott’s stone house (which would later become the college’s ‘lower house’). In March of the following year, work began on the ‘upper house’, the college’s largest building, and in September 1868, classes began.
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The first community at the college is recorded to have had a total of 29 people, including three priests (who made up the entire teaching staff) and 19 students. Over the years, thousands of young men were studied at St. Mary’s College. According to one source, at its height, the college had as many as 100 to 150 students at one time. The college continued to be operated by the Redeptorists into the first half of the 20 th century. The number of students, however, gradually decreased over time, and in the end, the college was forced to close its doors in 1972.
St. Mary's College Ruins ( CC BY 2.0 )
Rumors for Closing
Whilst it was the dwindling number of students that resulted in the closure of the college, by the late 1980s, rumors about the ‘real’ reason for the closing down of the college began to spread. One of these, for instance, is that an insane priest had slaughtered several female students. This rumor may have spread due to some confusion with the Patapsco Female Institute. Another rumor is that there was a priest who raped nuns in the college, and was eventually found out. The ending of this story varies from one version to another. One, for instance, claims that when the priest was caught, he managed to escape, whilst the nuns became possessed by demonic forces and murdered everyone in the college. In another version, the nuns were found hanged, with a pentagram drawn in blood on the floor below, and the priest dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It may be noted that St. Mary’s College was a seminary for men, and not a nunnery. Nevertheless, such tales, as well as many others, were circulating, and resulted in St. Mary’s College being nicknamed ‘Hell House College’.
Ghosts in the woods. ( Flick/CC BY 2.0 )
Whilst the college was closed in 1972, it remained in the hands of the Redeptorists. Eventually, part of the property was sold to the State of Maryland in 1987. This portion became part of the Patapsco Valley State Park. The rest of the property was sold to private interests. Little has remained of the seminary today. In 1968, the ‘lower house’ was destroyed by a fire, whilst another conflagration razed the ‘upper house’ to the ground in 1997. The remaining structures were torn down in 2006, and amongst the few surviving features of the college are the foundations, concrete staircases, and an altar beneath a colonnaded pavilion.