St. Mary's College – Ellicott City, Maryland - Atlas Obscura

St. Mary's College

The haunting "Hell House Altar" is one of the few remnants of an abandoned college that has been a magnet for local legends. 


Buried in the woods of Patapsco Valley State Park are the ruins of St. Mary’s College, and since the main buildings have been torn down a single stone gazebo still shelters a metal cross despite the popular local legends involving Satan-worshippers and ghosts.

St. Mary’s College was built in 1868 to train young men on their way to taking up the cloth. Unfortunately for the college (but fortunately for urban explorers) the schools student body slowly evaporated until there were just not enough to keep things going and the facility was abandoned in 1972. The empty buildings slowly decayed as curious explorers, urban legend hunters, and hormonal teenagers took charge of the property. The haunting ruins soon became the subject of countless local legends involving every sort of supernatural clap-trap from satanic cults to restless souls, eventually earning the buildings the colloquial name, “Hell House.”

Hell House remained mostly intact for several decades until a mysterious fire destroyed a large portion of the property in November 1997. The result was even more haunting, as a crumbled and charred red brick building with shattered windows and ubiquitous graffiti now sat ominously on the hill. Over time, word spread of the haunted school and visitors began to come in droves. The property owner then attempted to deter these trespassers with guard dogs and local police.

While there are still other remnants of the college littering the grounds including foundations and concrete staircases, the most stunning relic on the site is the Christian altar that still stands beneath a crumbling, colonnaded pavilion. The large metal cross sitting beneath the faux-classical dome seems like some ancient artifact from some bygone time. The ghost stories about Hell House may be malarkey, but the site of the eerie old altar might make visitors think differently.

Update August 2017: The cross is gone and the gazebo is still standing.

Update February 2020: The gazebo, altar, and nearby stones have all been mysteriously painted with symbols and other drawings, all black and white. 

Update June 2020: All remaining structures have been bulldozed. 

Update September 2022: The altar remains standing. The artist continues to add mysterious black-and-white symbols to the altar and surrounding structures.

Update March 2023: The altar is now gone as well. All that remains of anything here is half-buried stone and brick.

Know Before You Go

Two options: 1) Park at the bend of the road where Illchester Road meets River Road then walk back to the railroad bridge (parking beneath the railroad tracks will likely get you a ticket). There are steps hidden in the brush on the south side of the railroad bridge. Look for a second flight of stairs in the woods that take you up to the ruins. 2) Take the Buzzard's Rock trail off of Hilltop Road to get a bird's eye view of the property

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