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The Myths

The Story Beneath The Ruins

A History of St. Mary's College in Ilchester
Part II: "Hell House"

By Michael Duck
View , 10/26/00
| view the original newspaper clipping |

Many say the place is haunted. Others used talk of satanic altars or drug labs hidden within the cavernous old building. And... people sacrificing goats?

Well, not really. These are just rumors surrounding the old St. Mary's College in Ilchester, stories passed around among teenagers from all over the region. The students have a different name for the old seminary too: "Hell House."

These rumors, with their focus on the occult and supernatural, have little basis in reality. The real story, however, is almost as unusual: There's the owner, who allegedly splits his time between his home in India and his apartment complex in Savage.

There's the property's caretaker, who apparently has lived for years in the shadow of the old buildings with his rottweilers and a shotgun, chasing off troublemakers. And then there are the vandals and trespassers- mostly teenagers who come to test their bravery or their foolhardiness, to make trouble, drink alcohol, and find out if all those rumors are really true.

"Kids party up there," said Craig Phillips, who lives close by the old seminary. He said he often sees young people en route to the famous hangout; some even ask him for directions to Hell House.

"Whenever I see kids anywhere around here," Phillips explained, "I always warn them. I say, 'Just stay away.'"

Phillips isn't warning them about spirits haunting the old school, however. He's referring to a much more practical concern: Allen Rufus Hudson, the property's caretaker. Hudson- sometimes called "The Hermit" or "The Hilbilly" by the teens- is a prominent figure in most of the stories about Hell House. Hudson has acquired a reputation for chasing trespassers off the property with his rottweilers and his shotgun (which according to one account, is filled with rock salt).

Nonetheless, "I can empathize with him," commented Phillips. "Kids go up all the time and harass the hell out of him, from what I understand."

Parties, Vandalism

Even properties near the old seminary sometimes have problems with vandals. Ardellia Cugle Smith, Phillips's neighbor, routinely suffers vandalism on her property. "They have parties down at the bridge," she said, "and we've had our windows blown out and shot out, [our] mailbox blown up..."

Smith said that the police told her to report such problems, but it just happens too frequently for her to call after each incident. "I'd be phoning them all the time," she said.

There's also a possibility that vandals were involved with the fire that burned down the college's main building in the early morning of November 1, 1997- the day after Halloween.

State fire officials labeled the blaze as "suspicious," but the ensuing investigation was inconclusive. At the time, Hudson reported that he had heard a "bang" at midnight , but found nothing when he investigated the sound. At 5 a.m. , he heard another "bang," and immediately saw the building in flames.

Officials encountered one juvenile on the scene, who refused to give names but said that there had been other juveniles who had entered the building.

Phillips, however, is pretty sure that teens were responsible for the fire. "On Halloween, it would make sense that that would be it."

Howard County Police Spokesperson Sherry Llewellyn confirmed that the police are aware of the trespassing that occurs on the property. "The mystery of it seems to appeal to young people," she explained. "We do have some concerns that there is some drinking going on there."

However, she stressed that the trespassers are mostly engaging in "general mischief" rather than committing serious offenses.

"'Mischief' is really the key word here," she said. "We're not concerned that there are any serious crimes being committed. But it is a place that appeals to local kids, and we just monitor it to make sure that no one is breaking any laws."

An Air of Mystery

The property has long played a key role in the history of Ilchester and of Howard County . George Ellicott, Jr.- who went on to become the first mayor of Ellicott City- tried to develop a tavern on the site in the mid 1800s, but the venture proved a failure when the big trains on the B&O Railroad rarely stopped at Ilchester. The Redemptorists, a Roman Catholic religious order, then bought the property from him in 1866 and built a seminary. They added on to Ellicott's tavern (the "lower house") and also built the much larger "upper house" to accommodate the students. The Redemptorists operated the seminary there from 1868 until 1972, when it closed due to a lack of students. (The school was known as Mount Saint Clemens, until being renamed St. Mary's College in 1882).

More recently, though, the property has fallen into disrepair. Part of the land was sold to the State of Maryland in 1987, becoming part of the Patapsco Valley State Park . The rest- which included the sites of the two buildings- was sold to private interests.

The Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help also grew out of Redemptorist ministries at the college. In the late 1950s, the parish moved from its facilities in the college's "lower house" to its current location, about one mile south on Ilchester Road . In 1996, the Redemptorists left the parish as well, taking their histories with them.

Since then, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish has been administered by the Archdiocese of Baltimore. And the pastor, Rev. Richard Smith said that he knows nothing about the old property, its history, or its present owners.

"It's existed," he stated, "[and] that's all I know."

In fact, few people know anything about the present owners- including public officials. Since the property is privately owned, little information is available.

State tax assessment records indicate that the current owner is "BCS Limited Partnership," supposedly located on the property itself. The only mailing address is a Savage, MD post office box, "c/o S&S Partnership."

However, several sources named a "Dr. Singh"- in one account, Sateesh Kumar Singh- as the primary owner of the property. Singh was described as the owner either of BCS or of the "Kamakoti and Tirupati Foundation." Singh was also said to own the River Island apartment complex in Savage.

A secretary at River Island reported that the apartment complex is owned by "Kamakoti Properties," and confirmed that a "Dr. Singh" is involved in that company, though she could not confirm Singh's first name. She also indicated that Singh lives both in Savage and in India .

Singh did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Phone calls to "Tirupati Investors," also located within the River Island apartment complex, received no response, either.

'He Stays to Himself'

Hudson, the property's caretaker, is equally enigmatic. According to two local residents, Hudson often refers to the property as "his," even though his claims of ownership are not supported. Hudson 's relationship with BCS or with Singh has never been documented publicly.

Some neighbors have never had a problem with Hudson . "I don't know too much about him, because he stays to himself up there," said Smith, whose property borders the old seminary's grounds. "We just wave when he goes past."

"I've really only seen him two or three times," commented Susan Mullendore. "One of those was pleasant enough, one of those we didn't speak at all, and the third one was... intense." In that third encounter, Mullendore reported, Hudson was "very angry" about a pile of dirt and rock on the Mullendores' property, which happened to be located across from Hudson 's driveway.

Overall, though, there has been little interaction. As Mullendore put it, "I don't seek him out, and I don't necessarily avoid him, but very little interaction as actually occurred."

On the other hand, Phillips indicated that he had been warned to stay very far away from Hudson . "When I talked to the police- who know him well- I said [that I wished] I could be his ally," explained Phillips, who lives near Hudson 's driveway. "I could help out, keep kids away and things. I mentioned that I kind of felt sorry for the guy."

'Stay Clear'

However, police discouraged him from contacting Hudson . "It was explained to me that he's somebody absolutely, positively to stay very clear of," recalled Phillips. "[They said,] don't even begin to try to interact [with him] in any way, shape, or form. So, I've taken their advice."

Hudson has been brought into court at least ten times since 1989, usually facing charges of assault and battery. Prosecutors dropped charges in most of the cases, but Hudson has also been convicted several times.

Hudson himself could not be reached for comment. It is unclear if Hudson is still living on the property or not.

'Satanic Situation'

Mary Mannix, Former Library Director of the Howard County Historical Society, said that, before the fire, "We'd get students of various ages, from middle school up to college age, some of whom might have been hanging out or partying down there." She said that some of these researchers had heard there was some sort of "Satanic situation" on the property.

Mannix believes that much of the interest surrounding St. Mary's has been prompted by the old abandoned buildings themselves, combined with the mysterious nature of the owners. "It's privately owned, [and] no one really knows what's going on there," she said. "Essentially, the building was going to waste for years... Also, the fact that it had this mysterious caretaker and it had large dogs barking- that that got people very interested. Because, [people think] obviously, if they don't want you going near it, then there must be something going on there."

Hurley noted that visiting the site, even with the caretaker's permission, was a pretty spooky experience. At that time, Hurley said, Hudson was keeping his dogs inside the upper house. "We could hear the dogs barking in that cavernous, empty building," he recalled. "It was really quite a sound."

Many of the ghost stories that involve the property are notable for their inaccuracy. An account on www.ghostpage.com, a Web site operated by the Ghost Hunters of Baltimore, Intl., identifies "Hell House (Old St. Mary's College" as an "old all girls school that has been abandoned." The account continues, "People from the area that have been able to go there have seen and heard many spirits while visiting."

(Mannix indicated that, for many years, both the Patapsco Female Institute ruins and the old St. Mary's College ruins were known as "Hell House," which may have contributed to this confusion.)

A more elaborate version of the story says that one student at the supposed "all girl" school wrote in her diary about how awful conditions at the school were and how much she wanted to leave. Eventually, according to the story, everyone at the school died of pneumonia. When another group tried to reopen the school, they encountered the ghosts of the girls from before, and began experimenting with "black magic" to keep the spirits at bay.

Local historian Joetta Cramm, author of A Pictorial History of Howard County, has also heard some stories pertaining to what she calls "this supernatural crap." She has heard stories that "for years people have gone out there around Halloween, and waited for the supernatural spirits or whatever."

Cramm is somewhat upset by these rumors, though. "It really disturbed me," she said. "I mean, that was a sacred place."

Nevertheless, the stories persist. And they probably will continue for as long as the buildings remain standing and rumors about the caretaker still circulate.

As Mannix pointed out, the mystery and danger hold a strong appeal to thrill-seekers.

"I know we've had a number of researchers who really were interested because of the fact they were chased off," she commented. "Otherwise, they probably would have walked around, said, 'Hey, that's cool,' and gone about their business. As opposed to going, 'Well! We're going to find out what's going on there! Are they sacrificing goats?'"