Almost 120 years ago, on Sept. 16, 1902, one of Westminster’s most celebrated businessmen and elected officials, former Westminster Mayor Milton Schaeffer, died far too young of complications from diabetes at the age of 49.
The business, M. Schaeffer and Co., he started in 1877 was incorporated 21 years later, Dec. 10, 1898, as The Westminster Hardware Co. Since that time, the folks involved in that business have read like a who’s who of Carroll County community leaders, a legacy that continued well into the 20th century.
In 1981, the president of Westminster Hardware was Frank Libman, and the vice president and treasurer was Jake Yingling. According to a Jan. 16, 1964 article from an unidentified newspaper, the officers were David S. Babylon, Jr., president. “His father, D. Snider Babylon and grandfather, F. Thomas Babylon, had each previously served as president . . . C. Willard Stoner, vice-president and secretary; Charles W. Saylor, treasurer; Delmar H. Warehime, general manager, assistant treasurer and assistant secretary; Scott S. Bair and Paul E. Lawyer, directors.”
The Westminster Hardware Co., Orendorff building, 18 West Main Street, has long since left the prominent position it held in what is now a parking lot in front of Don’s TV, after a four-alarm fire essentially destroyed it on Dec. 16, 1981.
According to a Dec. 17, 1981 Carroll County Evening Sun front-page article, Westminster Fire Department assistant chief Donald Spangler reported that the early morning fire was fought by 11 fire companies from all across Carroll and Baltimore counties before it was brought under control.
According to an October 18, 1912 American Sentinel article headlined “The Merchants and Industries of Westminster,” which was featured in a Historical Society of Carroll County column written by historian Joe Getty, April 4, 1993, in the Carroll County Times: Schaeffer was the son of the late George Schaeffer and Catherine Diehl Schaeffer. He was born on a farm on the outskirts of Westminster near Krider’s Church in 1853.
As a child, he worked on the farm and helped his parents in their tannery. After attending Carroll County public schools and Rippard’s Academy in Westminster, he made a living as a teacher until he was approximately 24 years old.
“In 1877, he came to Westminster and, with the aid of friends, embarked in the hardware business in one of the rooms of the John T. Orendorff building . . .” which occupied 18–22 West Main Street.
His business quickly thrived. This area of town was constantly busy with customers and had easy access to train deliveries. Directly across the street was the Reifsnider and Stephan Hardware-Iron Store and George W. Albaugh’s One Price Cash Store, in what is now the Gehr Parking Lot at the southwest corner of Main and Liberty streets.
“On February 5, 1878, about a year after he began business, Schaeffer married Miss Mary S. Zacharias, a daughter of the late Jacob Zacharias, and a niece of Mrs. Jesse Reifsnider, the wife of his only business competitor,” according to the 1912 American Sentinel article.
The article recalls, “Mr. Zacharias lived on the Littlestown turnpike in the first house beyond the tollgate and was one of the most prominent citizens of the county. His daughter and Mr. Schaeffer were married in his home and the event was celebrated by a dinner to which over two hundred friends and relatives were invited.”
As Schaeffer’s business grew, he also accepted other civic responsibilities and on May 17, 1886, he was elected mayor of Westminster. In those days, the mayor served one-year terms and Schaeffer was re-elected in 1887 and 1888. He later again ran for election in 1895 as mayor and won. He is the only mayor, so far, in Westminster history to have served non-consecutive terms.
At the end of 1888, Westminster had a population of 3,000. The county tax rate was 50 cents per hundred dollars and the Westminster rate was 20 cents. The City carried a debt of $2,500 on an assessable basis of $2 million. That debt had only recently been incurred to upgrade the streets.
Serving with Mayor Schaeffer were common council members Charles E. Fink, George R. Gehr, Orlando Reese, Thomas R. Myer, and George Stouch. The most expensive land in the county was farmland, which sold for as much as $70 per acre. The cheapest land was for houses for as little as $8 per acre.
The next several years were difficult for Carroll County and the nation, especially 1893. On June 27, 1893 the stock market crashed, and the “Panic of 1893″ began. It was by some measurements, the second-worst depression in our nation’s history.
Before the nation began to recover in 1897, 600 banks failed, 15,000 businesses went bankrupt, one-third of all railroads went broke and national unemployment reached as high as 18.4 percent.
It is against this backdrop, that in 1895, Westminster had perhaps its most bitterly contested election.
At issue was how to provide street lighting. In this election, the two opposing sides ran as “tickets.” The May 11, 1895 American Sentinel reports that the “electric light ticket” won. They wanted “arc lights, all night, every night in the year.” The ticket consisted of Schaeffer and council members Emanuel Mackley, Abraham C. Strasburger, Martin Leahy, John B. Saylor, and Charles Hesson.
The “citizen’s ticket” consisting of Edwin J. Lawyer for mayor and Jesse F. Shreeve, Gershom Huff, J. Hoffman Fuss, Edmund J. Awalt, John M. Roberts, for councilmembers, lost. 589 ballots were cast.
Later, Schaeffer was appointed by Maryland Gov. Lloyd Lowndes, 1896-1900, to serve as a member of the county school board and on Sept. 1, 1898 President McKinley appointed him postmaster of Westminster.
Schaeffer was postmaster when the first rural free postal delivery service route in the nation was established in Carroll County, on April 3, 1899, by Edwin W. Shriver.
In 1898, at the age of 45, Schaeffer was diagnosed with diabetes. Four years later, on Sept. 16, 1902 he died at 49.
Carroll County is very fortunate to have had an extensive history of business men, women and community leaders who have dared to take risks and work hard to make our community the successful community it is today.
Portions of this discussion were previously published in 2006. It is important that we repeat positive stories about our community. Milton Schaeffer was one of the many people who took those risks, worked hard and was able to make a contribution and a difference in our community. It is important that we remember these individuals and pay our respects.
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Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.