The big news for the New Year's celebrations in Westminster in 1897 was the opening less than a week before of a new train station in town.
According to research for the Historical Society of Carroll County by Jay Graybeal, the Democratic Advocate newspaper reported the opening of the station on Dec. 26, 1896.
A big deal was made over the fact that the station had indoor bathrooms: "Toilet rooms for ladies and gentlemen open from each of the waiting rooms… and the mirror in the ladies' department is already in active operation."
Like many areas, the growth of the county was linked to the presence of a train. Much of the expansion of the industrial, commercial and employment base in Carroll after the Civil War, for example, was partially due to the fact the railroad had arrived in 1861.
In the 1840s, the citizens in Westminster had decided that the town would be more than a county seat and a wagon train stop on the turnpike west. One of the very first community initiatives to bring the railroad to Carroll County occurred at the Court House on April 7, 1847. Still, it took 14 years of meetings, discussions, studies, resolutions, commissions and committees to get the railroad to town.
In his book, "The Building of Westminster," historian Chris Weeks reported that, in the 1850s, according to a presentation, "Early Settlement of Carroll County," by Joseph D. Brooks on Jan, 19, 1923; Westminster was "seven taverns and (an) unceasing stream of wagons and mule drivers passing along its muddy Main Street."
After the Civil War ended, there was a concerted effort to bring about public improvements in town. Two privately-funded water systems began in the 1890s. There were campaigns to grade and pave the streets and sidewalks. In the late 1890s, electric streetlights were on their way. Main Street in Westminster was not completely paved until the 1920s, however, and Westminster did not start constructing a sanitary public sewer system until the mid-1930s.
Today, very few remember that from 1861 to 1960, a good bit of the economic vitality of downtown Westminster was supported by a thriving passenger rail service. Those trains brought passengers from Washington, D.C., Hagerstown, and Baltimore to shop and spend leisurely summer vacations in Westminster. It also provided commuter transportation for local citizens who worked in Baltimore.
On Oct. 3, 1960, the passenger train service was discontinued. It could no longer compete with the same service that was provided by buses.
At the time, the station was located between the railroad tracks and the present-day location of the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library. Sadly, for reasons not easily understood at this time, the station was unceremoniously torn down in 1961 and turned into a parking lot.
When not watching the trains in historic downtown Westminster, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org