For over 25 years, one of the more frequent reader questions I get is how certain streets, places and towns in Carroll County got their names. On several occasions in recent memory, however, the question has been how Carroll County got its name.
Between 1792 and 1795, during one of the earliest attempts to form Carroll County from parts of Baltimore and Frederick counties, the proposed name was Union County.
In Nancy Warner’s history of Carroll County, she notes a petition to the General Assembly of Maryland, during the term of Gov. William Paca, to name the new county “Paca County.” Gee, I can’t imagine why.
Then, on Nov. 25, 1813, according to Warner, the newspaper, the Engine of Liberty, in what we now know as Uniontown: “(G)ave notice of a petition to the legislature signed by the citizens of Baltimore and Frederick counties asking for the creation of a new county to be named ‘Union County’ with ‘The Forks’ as the county seat. The petition was rejected, but thereafter ‘The Forks’ was called Uniontown.”
A letter dated Jan. 29, 1833, “by a Mr. Holmes and other residents of Baltimore County” suggested, according to Warner, that the new county be named, “Westminster County.”
It was Maryland State Del. William Cost Johnson, “a member of the House committee to which some of the petitions had been sent, [who] introduced a bill into the House of Delegates for the formation of ‘Carroll County’ with Westminster as the county seat. The name of Carroll was proposed to commemorate Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence and a prominent Maryland landowner who died in 1832 at the age of 95.”
Warner chronicles the legislation passed on March 2, 1833, with an election set in October 1833 “in both of the affected areas, the western part of Baltimore County and the eastern part of Frederick County.
“[P]amphlets in English and German [were] circulated throughout the area” arguing for or against the formation of Carroll County. The main sticking point against forming a new county was, you guessed it, taxes.
After 50 of trying, Carroll County was created by the Maryland General Assembly on Jan. 19, 1837 from the western part of Baltimore County and the eastern part of Frederick County.
Every year, the Historical Society of Carroll County hosts a celebration of our county’s birthday in the mid-January cold of winter. Portions of this discussion have been published before.
Of course, it could be argued that January is as good a time as any for a celebration since there is little else to celebrate in the middle of any of Carroll County’s bleak winters. Interestingly enough, in 1887 the county did not even bother to celebrate the county’s birthday anywhere near the dead of winter, choosing instead to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the county on April 11, 1887.
According to research on the event and the festivities by historian Mary Ann Ashcraft and Historical Society curator Cathy Baty, “Between fifteen and twenty-five thousand people arrived in Westminster that bright spring 1887 morning to celebrate the occasion in typical nineteenth century fashion with a parade, addresses, poetry, pomp, and circumstance.”
The Baltimore Sun reported the following day that, “Probably 25,000 people participated in the celebration …” The Democratic Advocate said, “The line [of the parade] was about two miles long, and the route traversed was four miles.” The grand parade was termed “a brilliant spectacle.” Twelve bands, both local and from other counties, and two drum corps provided music for approximately 2,000 participants.
Carroll County Daily Headlines
According to Ashcraft’s research, “From newspaper reports we learn the names of some senior citizens who participated – Francis Shriver … John Smith [one of the founders of Western Maryland College], Wm. P. Maulsby and dozens more important in the life of the county since its founding.
“Colonel John K. Longwell [1810-1896] must have been thrilled to participate. In the early 1880s, historian J. Thomas Scharf wrote that Col. Longwell had ‘contributed more than any single individual to the organization of Carroll County…’”
Longwell, according to multiple sources, including that of Chris Weeks in his definitive book, “The Building of Westminster in Maryland,” wrote, “Distinguished Carroll County citizen John K. Longwell was born Oct. 19, 1810. Longwell’s service to Carroll County included publishing newspapers in Taneytown and Westminster.
“These newspapers carried his extensive arguments for the formation of Carroll County. Longwell helped to found the Westminster English and Mathematical Academy, the West End Academy and the Westminster Female Institute. He served as a board trustee for Western Maryland College. Longwell’s most visible contribution to Carroll County was the construction of his mansion atop Emerald Hill. The mansion was renovated and opened as Westminster City Hall in 1942.”
Of course, since I am a closet Shakespeare fan, the answer to most questions about the origin of a particular name often involves a quotation from the play, “Romeo and Juliet,” when Juliet told Romeo: “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet…”
With that in mind, do you think Carroll County would still be a great place to live if it went by the name, “Paca County?” Or how about “Union County” or “Westminster County?”
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.