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Eagle Archive: Community's history comes to rest at Westminster Cemetery

On Jan. 24, 1790, a gentleman in our community by the name of Christian Yingling died. His name and his passing are significant, because Yingling's is believed to be the first burial in the historic Westminster Cemetery on Church Street.

It is accepted that the Westminster community started the Westminster Cemetery by utilizing the 1.5-acre grounds surrounding the Union Meeting House in 1790.

In 1864, "the company purchased twelve-and-a-half surrounding acres from the estate of John Fisher (the first Burgess of the City of Westminster) and the cemetery reached its current dimensions," according "Westminster Cemetery, Carroll County Cemeteries, Vol. V, Part III," by the Carroll County Genealogical Society in 2004. The authoritative reference book lists all the burials in the cemetery and includes a brief history.

Today, the cemetery is the county's largest, "about 5,000 stones," reports local historian Harold Robertson. "The cemetery … includes the graves of city founder William Winchester…"

Although the history of the log meeting house may go back as far as 1707; there are numerous references to it around 1760, four years before William Winchester drew a plat plan for what we now know as Westminster.

Construction of the brick Union Meeting House began in 1800. It was completed in 1811. Sadly, the brick meeting house was demolished shortly after a July 18, 1891, newspaper article announcing its public sale.

Last September, Robertson and I spent much of the day finding where we believe the four corners of the building were located on the property for a future historic property improvement.

Currently, the volunteer Westminster Cemetery Board of Managers (of which I am a member) is developing plans to further enhance this sacred ground.

One of several projects includes restoring the family vaults of William Winchester.

Many people only become aware of the cemetery when they attend the annual Memorial Day parade. The annual observance, believed to be the oldest in the nation, takes place in the historic Center Circle in the cemetery at the end of the parade.

If you have not done so before, make plans to attend the Memorial Day ceremonies in Westminster. This year, they are scheduled for Monday, May 27.

As you stand on the hallowed ground in front of the urn in the Westminster Cemetery, understand that this area of Westminster has been considered sacred for perhaps as long as 300 years.

By working together, our community will be able to maintain this institution beyond another 300 years. If you would like to make a contribution toward the restoration of the William Winchester grave site or for the general maintenance and upkeep of the cemetery, contact the cemetery company president, former Westminster Councilwoman Suzanne Albert, at suzannealbert@comcast.net, or call her at 410-871-1180. You may also mail a check to: Westminster Cemetery Company, P.O. Box 1251, Westminster, MD 21158-1251.

When he is not visiting centuries of Carroll County history at the Westminster Cemetery, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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