Joppatowne is a census-designated place in southwestern Harford County, Maryland, United States. Serving as a bedroom community for nearby Baltimore, it was established in 1961 as a planned unit development (PUD). The population was 12,616 at the 2010 census, up from 11,391 in 2000.
Joppatowne is covered by the “Joppa” ZIP Code of 21085, and “Joppa” is a designated planning region for Harford County. The Joppa ZIP code (21085) extends 6 miles (10 km) north of Joppatowne, as far as Benson, just south of Bel Air.
The namesake of both Joppatowne and Joppa is the original town of “Joppa”. It was a major seaport in American colonial times and the county seat of the original Baltimore County until 1768. Its site is located within the boundaries of present-day Joppatowne.
In colonial America there were three towns in the area of present-day Joppatowne, each established and abandoned in succession: Gunpowder Town, Foster’s Neck, and Joppa. The first two were short-lived, but Joppa proved quite successful for some 50 years.
Gunpowder Town, or simply “Gunpowder”, was a failed English settlement that pre-dated colonial Joppa, and was located close to it. This first attempt to establish an English settlement on the Gunpowder River was apparently abandoned because it proved to be a poor location. Though documents and records exist for the settlement, including official papers in the archives of the United Kingdom, nobody knows exactly where it was located. It was somewhere northwest of present-day Joppatowne, situated between the confluence of the Big Gunpowder and Little Gunpowder, at a place known as “Sim’s Point”. Its location cannot be accurately pinpointed because at that time the mouths of the Big and Little Gunpowder were about a mile further inland (above present-day U.S. Route 40). No trace of the town is known to have ever been found.
In 1706 the Provincial Assembly of Maryland chartered another town nearby, known as “Foster’s Neck”. It was located on the eastern bank of the Gunpowder River, at the stream later known as Foster Branch (or “Foster’s Branch”), at the southernmost boundary of present-day Joppatowne. Again, though mill ruins are visible in this area near the stream, the town’s precise location is unknown. Foster’s Neck was intended to succeed the town of Old Baltimore (no relation to Baltimore City) on the Bush River as the county seat of Baltimore County. However, Foster’s Neck was abandoned a year later, in 1707, reportedly due to an outbreak of smallpox. St. John’s Parish of the established Anglican Church temporarily moved inland, to where the Officer’s Club at the Edgewood area of Aberdeen Proving Ground is currently located. It relocated to Joppa in 1712. After the decline of Joppa following the designation of the city of Baltimore as the county seat in 1768, St. John’s Parish was moved to nearby Kingsville in the late 18th century, where it has stayed. A new St. John’s Parish Church was built by Edward Day in Kingsville in 1817 to replace the St. John’s Parish Church at “Joppa Town” which has declined into ruins.
… the Assembly directed the site at Foster’s Neck “to be deserted, and in lieu thereof fifty acres to be erected into a town on a tract of land on the same river, belonging to Anne Felks, and called Taylor’s Choice, and the court-house to be built there.” All acts of Assembly required the royal assent, but as it was not supposed there would be any objection to the change of site proposed in the law of 1707, work was at once begun on the new town, streets were laid out, and the courthouse was in course of construction, when, to the general surprise, the queen dissented both to the act of 1706 as well as to that of 1707. For the next five years Joppa, if it lived at all, lived only as a sort of illegitimate town, and probably consisted simply of the buildings in process of construction and those already built when the queen’s veto suspended its legal existence and checked its progress. In 1712, however, a new act was passed, fixing the County Court at the house built on Taylor’s Choice, “in the town of Joppa.”
Joppa, as we have seen, was laid out into forty lots of half an acre each, exclusive of the one-acre lot set aside for the use of St. John’s parish church, and was divided by Court Street and Church Street running east and west, and Low Street and High Street running nearly north and south. The lots were offered at one pound seven shillings each, to be paid to Col. James Maxwell, with a fee of two shillings and sixpence to the clerk for every entry made by him.— History of Baltimore City and County, John Thomas Scharf, 1881
The original Joppa was a major seaport and commercial hub in the 18th century. The town proper was located on what is now called Rumsey Island, where the Big Gunpowder Falls and Little Gunpowder Falls meet to form the Gunpowder River. The only original building remaining is the Rumsey Mansion, once home of colonial patriot Benjamin Rumsey. Building foundations and gravesites are visible on the adjacent Church of the Resurrection property. Ruins of the original wharf and docks, as well as the town jail, were still visible until Hurricane Agnes swept through in 1972. The Old Joppa Site was added to the National Register of Historic Places as an archeological site in 1979.
Joppa’s “mile wide harbor” on the Gunpowder River could accommodate the largest ocean-going ships of the day. Joppa was Maryland’s most important commercial center in colonial times, with tobacco being the primary commodity crop and export. Long before Baltimore was established, this was one of the busiest ports in the western hemisphere.
For many years Joppa reigned the mistress of the Chesapeake bay. Within its borders were the county court-house, the chapel, the county prison, several inns and a number of commodious warehouses and stately mansions. In its harbor were vessels from New England, the West Indies, and ports of Europe. It became the seat of the social and civil life of the county and of the adjoining hundreds and parishes, and being located upon the public highway leading to the Northern colonies, it became a well-known resort for travellers and merchants.— Maryland’s Influence Upon Land Cessions to the United States, Herbert Baxter Adams, 1885
Joppa was a vital hub for land transportation, and it was said that “all roads lead to Joppa”. It was the original terminus for Joppa Road, which ran northwest to what is now Towson and north to York, Pennsylvania (prior to the York Road being built in 1810). Joppa Road connected to Rolling Road to points west. The original post road to Philadelphia also went through Joppa, and a ferry across the Gunpowder River connected to points south via what is now the community of Chase and Eastern Avenue. Many famous colonial figures invariably passed through and boarded at Joppa.
Economic growth was also stimulated via the establishment of various commercial enterprises just north of Joppa, which used water power generated by Little Gunpowder Falls. The most notable of these is the still standing Jerusalem Mill Village complex in Kingsville. It fabricated weapons for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
As the state’s primary port-of-entry and county seat of its most populous county, Joppa was the focal point of virtually all aspects of colonial life in central Maryland. Joppa was the hub for all communications and media of the day, and central Maryland’s ground-zero for politics and elections. Many major horse races were held there. Many convicted criminals were publicly hanged there on the courthouse grounds in formal, sanctioned executions.
By the end of the 18th century, agricultural and other land development upstream caused the Gunpowder River and Joppa’s harbor to silt up, making access by large ships impossible. Ellicott City‘s port suffered a similar fate. Baltimore became Maryland’s major shipping port, and in 1768 the county seat was moved to Baltimore. Joppa went into decline, and by 1814 was mostly abandoned.
Benjamin Rumsey (1734–1808), the namesake of Rumsey Island and the Rumsey Mansion (the only colonial building that survived the decline of Joppa), was a delegate for Maryland to the Second Continental Congress, and the first Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, serving for more than 25 years (1778–1806). In 1768 Rumsey married the widow of Colonel James Maxwell. He had been the primary planter and landowner in Joppa, and commissioned the “Rumsey Mansion” to be built between 1720 and 1724.
Rumsey relocated from Cecil County to Joppa sometime around 1771, after having the Rumsey Mansion substantially renovated. Rumsey eventually acquired all the land where Joppa once stood, and all of the surrounding areas. This large estate came to be known as “Joppa Farm”, a slaveplantation. Upon Rumsey’s death in 1808, Joppa Farm passed to his son John Beal Rumsey and/or his grandson Charles Henry Rumsey. Upon C.H. Rumsey’s death, his children sold Joppa Farm to the Murray family. James Murray was the owner of Joppa Farm until it was purchased by Beulah Hare Chell in 1936. In 1961 the Panitz Brothers Company acquired the land from Beulah Hare Chell to develop a planned community Joppatowne. Maryland Historical Society records show the property was owned by the “Maryland-Virginia Joint Stock Land Bank” in 1936, during the heart of the Great Depression.