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When cigars meant major industry in Manchester [Column]

HistoryRailway Transportation

When you think of Carroll County agriculture, business and employment, do you think of cigars?

Cigar manufacturing was once one of Carroll County's largest industries.

Let's start at the beginning, after the first business in Carroll County, fur-trapping, had given way to farming. When William Winchester first developed Westminster in 1764, it was located on one of the three main routes that are known today as Routes 30, 140 and 26. These roadways were critical for the economic expansion of our fledgling nation.

Travel and commerce along these routes through Westminster quickly led to the construction of hotels, eating establishments, and stores that stocked the necessary provisions for those on the road.

The arrival of the railroad in Westminster in 1861 and the National Banking Act of 1863 and 1864 accelerated the development of Carroll County's nonagricultural commercial and industrial base.

The J. T. Mathias Addition, the first industrial and commercial annexation, occurred right after the Civil War around the intersections of Main, Green and Liberty streets.

A residential annexation, a development by George and Maria Matthews in the area around Belle Grove Square, was added to the City of Westminster in 1877. This residential development was very successful because of its close proximity to the employment provided by the manufacturing facilities along the railroad tracks and in the Mathias Addition, which was primarily manufacturing, mills and canning factories.

Those canning factories disappeared from the county years ago, so have the facilities where cigars were made.

According to research by historian Mary Ann Ashcraft for the Historical Society of Carroll County: "As early as 1814, an advertisement in the Uniontown newspaper announced the opening of a shop to make and sell 'segars.' About 50 years later, the Wantz Cigar Factory began production in Westminster, but the town of Manchester dominated the industry beginning in the early 1870s."

Research for the Historical Society by historian Joe Getty reveals, "Manufacturing cigars out of locally grown tobacco required hand-rolling that was primarily done by women … (for) the following cigar manufacturers: Samuel Lilly, Manchester and Charles V. Wantz, Westminster."

"The source of tobacco appears to have been local growers, at least during the early years," reports Ashcraft. "In 1879, eighty-eight Carroll County farms raised over 134,000 pounds of tobacco, mostly in the Freedom and Franklin districts (Eldersburg and Taylorsville areas). Tobacco was a very labor-intensive crop, so each farmer only raised a couple of acres."

Another historian, Jay Graybeal, noted that: "Mr. Wantz is one of the popular men in his district, and started the business in 1876 … Part of his success was due to a novel inducement; each purchaser of 1,000 cigars received an imported breech-loading shotgun. Throughout his career he gave away 5,000 guns representing sales of 5,000,000 cigars!"

When he is not admiring the artwork on the old cigar labels, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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