St. Mary’s College and Chapel, or, Hell House; The Wages of Time and Mischief

St. Mary’s College and Chapel had a good run but, in the end, never had a prayer. The imposing structures were too big to survive disuse, the old grounds too perfect a milieu for mischief. Now all that’s left are scattered remnants and living proof that nature reclaims even the sturdiest foundations we build on top of it.

On the very edge Howard County, Maryland, a stone staircase ascends a forested hill that’s nearly surrounded by Patapsco Valley State Park, a natural oasis amid the suburban development of Greater Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Climb these steps and you’ll come to what appears to be a scaled-down version of some post-apocalyptic ruin, overgrown paths that lead to piles of rubble, mysterious passages all but inaccessible.

Hell House 1      Hell House 2

Hell House St Marys

Top: St. Mary’s ruins today; Bottom: St. Mary’s when it was still standing, photo courtesy MD State Archives

This was once a five-story brick college building, replete with a portico and cupola. There was a chapel here, too, built in the likeness of a cruciform. “St. Mary’s College and Chapel are one of the most impressive architectural complexes in Howard County,” claimed a Maryland Historical Trust inventory form. The striking scenery wasn’t lost on official observers, who noted that St. Mary’s commanded “an outstanding site at the top of a granite cliff, rising above the Patapsco River.”

St. Mary’s was a seminary that educated young men entering the Catholic priesthood. The college opened in 1868 and had a good hundred-year-plus run, but because of declining enrollment closed in 1972.

Hell House 6      Hell House

Although there are indications that there was a resident living at least briefly in the abandoned school (the Maryland Historical Trust inventory form lists the structure as “Occupied”), the imposing structure was nevertheless at the mercy of the elements.

The mystique of the place drew all the usual suspects: ghost hunters, teenage partiers, clandestine lovers. Such a spooky place also fostered cute-but-unfounded rumors, as with the notion that devil worshipers held their rituals there (which local police guarded, no less!), leading some to call the old ruins “Hell House.” The real history (available both on the Maryland Historical Trust inventory form and on this website) makes for a less-compelling story, which is why it was probably shelved in favor of wilder tales of intrigue and conspiracy.

Hell House 4      Hell House 9

Whatever tales the buildings’ walls sheltered went up in flames in 1997. Owners razed the shells in 2006. The absence of any structures makes for an even more mysterious place, because now all the staircases and footpaths go nowhere, lead to nothing. Sure, there are remnants of what St. Mary’s College and Chapel once was: chunks of ornate masonry, an intact hillside basement, lines of posts and trees that betray human design. Give natural forces a few more decades, though, and even those relics will likewise exist only in the past.

Hell House 5   Hell House 7   Hell House 3

Hell House 8

Here are really good photos taken by Geoff Lawrence at the site of the Hell House. You can see more of his work at the GLawrence Photography Facebook page.

GLawrence Hell House 2      GLawrence Hell House 3 GLawrence Hell House 4      GLawrence Hell House 1

About Ben Swenson

Ben lives in Williamsburg, Virginia. He is writing a book on places of historic value that have been forgotten and are being reclaimed by nature. Abandoned Country is a companion blog to that project. You can contact him at
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5 Responses to St. Mary’s College and Chapel, or, Hell House; The Wages of Time and Mischief

  1. Kayte says:

    the school itself..was it the 4th picture? with the hole in the basement? i recently went to the Hell House and adored every moment of it. but did not find the actually building

    • Ben Swenson says:


      I never saw the original building before it was destroyed, so your guess is as good as mine in terms of what stucture was where. I was under the assumption that the piles of bricks were the main part of the old building, and the basement that now has a hole in the top was some part or annex of that. Perhaps someone else who was there before it collapsed would know better.

      Thanks for reading.


  2. kim says:

    i saw it before it burned it was a spooky place but neat to explore and yes someone did occupy it for a time.

  3. Nick says:

    The 4th picture used to be an auto repair site. The hole is where you would drive the car over to work underneath. It’s also where the bum/guard lived in the late 90’s/early 2000’s

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