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Celia M. Holland papers

 Collection 0031-MDHC

Celia M. Holland (1911-1993), a Baltimore, Maryland, native, was a local history writer who became, through her research, the unofficial historian of Howard County, Maryland. Her most important work was the monograph entitled Old Homes and Families of Howard County, Maryland. She also produced numerous newspaper and magazine articles on Maryland history topics and conducted an extensive correspondence with many individuals sharing similar local history interests. Celia M. Holland's papers consist of correspondence and biographical information, writings and publicity, property documentation, county subject files, and research materials concerning historic personages and other historical topics. Also includes over 3,000 color slides of historic buildings and locations throughout the state of Maryland.


  • 1861-1993
  • Majority of material found within 1861-1993

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


12.50 Linear Feet

3012 Photographic Slides

3181 Photographs

Scope and Content of Collection

The papers of Celia M. Holland span the years 1861-1993, although the bulk of the material dates from 1964-1985. The collection consists primarily of correspondence, clippings, notes, publications, photographs, maps, and drafts pertaining to historic buildings in Howard County, Maryland, and the history of Ellicott City, Maryland. There are also correspondence, drafts, and proofs relating to the writing of her newspaper articles and books. Other topics include historic preservation, noteworthy Marylanders, the nation's bicentennial, historic sites in Maryland, and personal affairs. James C. and Mary Holland donated additional photographs, negatives, correspondence, and notes in September 2013.


Celia M. Holland (1911-1993) created a unique series of historical articles and books by combining her love for the people and the past of Howard County, Maryland, with a lifelong interest in writing. By forming lasting friendships with many of her subjects, arguing persuasively for the preservation of historic buildings, and creating an extensive research file, Holland became the unofficial historian of Howard County. Although her research and articles examine the historic buildings of her adopted county, it is the personal dimension that make her histories come alive.

Cecelia Mary Gassinger was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 2, 1911. She was the daughter of Gerard Gassinger, a German emigre who became a manufacturer of custom furniture in Baltimore -- a business that bore the family name -- and Louise Thillman, an Eastern shore and Anne Arundel County descendant with ties to farming and real estate. Educated in Baltimore at the Institute of Notre Dame, she left school in the eleventh year, following the premature death of her father. Her teachers had noted and encouraged her interest in writing, however, and she eventually found a position with the Baltimore Sun. A year after leaving Notre Dame, she married William Danforth O'Brien. Two children soon followed, William Danforth and Gerard Francis, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1934. Soon afterward, a former colleague from the Baltimore Sun introduced Celia to his roommate, Amos Thornton Holland of Howard County. A whirlwind, three-month courtship led to marriage in January 1935. The Hollands had four children: James Clarence, twins Charles Thillman and Nicholas Henderson, and Charlotte Thornton.

Mrs. Holland's son James remembers that there was a "tradition of talking about the past" in his family. The Hollands of Howard County, whose seventeenth- and eighteenth-century roots included some of Maryland's most prominent families (Burgess, Dorsey, Henderson, Holland, Welsh, and Warfield), still lived on the family homestead, Oakley Farm, when Celia and Amos Holland married. Celia Holland lived at Oakley Farm for more than seven years with her young family: in 1941 or 1942, during recuperation from an illness, and from 1947 to 1953. At those times, Oakley Farm housed three generations, including Amos Holland's aunt and uncle, Rebecca Burgess and Nicholas Rufus Henderson -- sister and brother -- who often talked of local history. "Uncle Nick had traveled extensively in the Old West for thirty years [1888-1908] and was a magnificent storyteller," recalls James Holland, his great-nephew. Although the Hollands sold the farm after seven generations of family residence and moved to University Park in 1953, the family stories absorbed from the older generation and from the experience of living in a house imbued with family history indelibly marked the Amos Holland family; two of the children, Gerard and James, became university history professors, while their mother channeled her interest in Maryland history into her writing.

Celia M. Holland's first writing assignments had been at the Baltimore Sun, during the time when H.L. Mencken was editor. At first a news reporter, she was assigned to cover a fire in which there was a fatality. That tragic event prompted her move to the feature department where she covered city events and the local political scene. Holland resigned her position after one year in order to marry. For the next thirty years she focused her energies on raising a family, although between 1944 and 1947 she served as editor of the Trasagion, a Catholic magazine published by the Trinitarian Fathers.

In 1964, Holland again took up her pen to author a series of nearly fifty articles for the Central Maryland News. Entitled "Know Your County," the feature series described historic landmarks in and around Howard County. This series perfectly blended her interests in Howard County's people and history with her talent as a writer. Holland and her husband drove the back roads of the county meeting interesting people and photographing their historic homes. She also wrote to the residents of these homes requesting information about previous owners, the unique features of the residence, and special interest stories. Most were pleased to share their knowledge. According to her son James, "Mother's [writing] style was marked by the personal touch; she loved gathering information and had a warm manner that put people at ease." In fact, many of her interviews led to longstanding friendships. The series also prompted suggestions for articles about other locations of historic interest.

In her preface to Ellicott City, Maryland: Mill Town U.S.S. (1970), Holland credits the "encouragement from the people of Howard County and many requests to publish the articles in book form" for the completion of her first book. Written in part to champion the preservation of Ellicott City, the book was so successful that three printings were necessary. This effort was followed by another newspaper series in the Howard County Times; Ellicott City: Maryland's 18th Century Milltown, a tour guide of Eillicott City that went through four editions; and Landmarks of Howard County, Maryland (1975), produced for the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence.

The culmination of Celia M. Holland's writing career was her final and most important work, Old Homes and Families of Howard County, Maryland (1987). Based upon twenty-five years of research, the text grew to over 500 pages in length with 173 illustrations. Explaining the evolution of the book in its preface, Mrs. Holland describes how "little by little my husband and I found ourselves traveling the main highways and back roads of the county, meeting delightful people who happily lavished on us information concerning their reassured homesteads and honored families." The book itself earned high praise: "What a great and comprehensive work this: historical, demographical, and genealogical," wrote P. W. Philby, director of the Maryland Historical Society.

Although Old Homes and Families of Howard County, Maryland was Holland's last published work, she continued to be active in historic and preservation issues. A long-time member of the Howard County Historical Society and Historic Ellicott City, Inc., she also served as a volunteer at her local Catholic Church and at De Matha High School. But history remained her primary interest; she wrote articles and letters to champion the preservation of Howard County's most important landmarks and continued to research and collect histories of the region she so loved.

Celia Holland suffered ill health most of her adult life which, at times, hampered her ability to do fieldwork, although she continued her correspondence and writing. She died on May 22, 1993, just four months after the death of her beloved husband, at her last residence in Catonsville, Maryland.


This collection is organized into ten series:

Series 1
Correspondence and Biographical
Series 2
Writings and Publicity
Series 3
Properties Relating to Ellicott City
Series 4
Howard County Properties and Topics
Series 5
Other Historic Properties
Series 6
County Subject Files
Series 7
Historic Figures and Topics
Series 8
Series 9
Series 10

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

James C. and Mary G. Holland donated the papers of Celia M. Holland on August 2, 1994. James C. and Mary G. Holland donated additional color slides in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

James C. and Mary Holland donated additional photographs, negatives, correspondence, and notes in September 2013.

Related Material

The Maryland Collection of the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries holds six of Holland's books and pamphlets: Ellicott City: Maryland's 18th Century Mill Town (1968) (F189.E4H65);Ellicott City, Maryland: Mill Town U.S.A. (1970) (F189.E4H6); Ellicott City, Maryland, 1972-1992 (1972) (F189.E4H6);Landmarks of Howard County, Maryland; a Bicentennial Presentation (1975) (F187.H8H64); Ellicott City, Maryland: Maryland's 18th Century Mill Town (1980) (F189.E4H65); Old Homes and Families of Howard County, Maryland (1987) (F187.H8H644)

Holland's collection of Marylandia reference books was donated to the Howard County Historical Society Library.

Processing Information

Much of the original order of the collection has been maintained. Correspondence, Howard County Properties, Ellicott City properties, historic figures, and county subject file groupings already existed. Series II and V were created to accommodate several miscellaneous files. Most individual folders contained distinct topics; loose materials and miscellaneous files were divided into existing files or given specific folder titles. Alphabetical order and misfilings were corrected.

Within the folders, materials were rearranged chronologically, newsprint was photocopied onto acid-free paper, and plastic clips replaced metal fasteners. Envelopes were retained and clipped to the flattened contents. Road maps with no historical commentary and duplicate brochures were removed to the map collection or vertical file of the Marylandia collection. Photographs were removed to the Photograph Collection and separation sheets placed in the files to note their removal. Oversize journal articles were flattened and placed in an oversize box with separation sheets inserted in their original place. The collection has been placed in acid-free folders and boxes.

Revisions to Series 1, 2, and 4 and the addition of Series 9 and 10 were made by Tyler Stump in 2014.

Guide to the Celia M. Holland papers
Processed by Anne L. Foster. Additional processing completed in 2014 by Tyler Stump.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2007-04-15: EAD markup checked and verified using JEdit software by Jennie A. Levine, April 2007.
  • 2007: Revised by Jennie A. Levine, 2007.
  • 2014: Edited by Amanda K. Hawk, 2014.
  • 2017-06-07: EAD checked and verified following ArchivesSpace migration by Nancy Harrison Gage.
  • 2014: Revisions made and Series 9 and 10 processed by Tyler Stump.
  • 2019-09-25: Series 9 and 10 added to resource record by Jennifer Piegols.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742