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Dayhoff: A sewer system for Westminster, a toilet for the State House

Up until the 1930s, Westminster did not have a sewer system. On May 23, 1934, Westminster passed an ordinance authorizing the issuance of $228,000 worth of 4% bearer bonds, “for the purpose of … constructing a complete sewer system … and a sewage disposal plant…”
Up until the 1930s, Westminster did not have a sewer system. On May 23, 1934, Westminster passed an ordinance authorizing the issuance of $228,000 worth of 4% bearer bonds, “for the purpose of … constructing a complete sewer system … and a sewage disposal plant…” (Courtesy Kevin Dayhoff–Wright family papers)

On Jan. 8, the 441st session of the Maryland General Assembly convened amid great fanfare, pomp, and circumstance. The history and traditions of the General Assembly are full of intrigue, drama, and suspense of operatic proportions. The first assembly met in St. Mary’s City on Feb. 26, 1634. At that time it was a unicameral body. It did not separate into two chambers until 1650. Interestingly enough, the governor was part of the Upper House until 1675.

Over 400 years later, it remains opera — only the names have changed. Historically, for those folks who lament that the legislative body is dominated by the Baltimore-Washington corridor, one must not overlook that the assembly was totally dominated by rural Maryland for over 300 hundred years — up until 1964.

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When it comes to government’s main responsibility to the citizens it serves, health, safety, and welfare; it is important to have good roads, good police protection, trash collection, streetlights, and a good supply of water — but if you really want to see the grits hit the fan, start messin’ with the sewer system. Apparently, the Maryland General Assembly is with me on this. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Meanwhile, Chapter 132 of the Maryland General Assembly Session Laws of 1927, authorized Westminster to “to borrow Seventy-five Thousand Dollars, to be secured by a bond issue, and provide a tax for the payment of the interest on said bonds and their redemption. … And be it further enacted, that the money derived from the sale of said bonds shall be used and applied exclusively to the paving and improving of the streets, curbs, and gutters of the town…”

By the late-1920s, essentially all of Westminster’s streets were still dirt (really mud) — even Main Street. In the late-1920s, many of the streets were paved only to be dug up a few years later for the purpose of constructing a sewer system. Some things never change.

Up until the 1930s, Westminster did not have a sewer system. On May 23, 1934, Westminster passed an ordinance authorizing the issuance of $228,000 worth of 4% bearer bonds, “for the purpose of … constructing a complete sewer system … and a sewage disposal plant…” The first Westminster plumbing code (79 pages) was passed by way of Ordinance 249 on Jan. 14, 1935.

Meanwhile, several decades earlier in Annapolis, 1892 was a proud year for Carroll countians as our very own native son, Frank Brown of Sykesville was elected governor of the State of Maryland. He served one term, from 1892 until 1896.

The Maryland General Assembly must have liked him because Chapter 245 of the Acts of Maryland of 1892, gave the new governor a new toilet in the Maryland State House.

Page 337 in Volume 397 of the Session Laws of the State of Maryland, maintained by the Maryland State Archives reads: “AN ACT to provide for the removal of the water closet from the State House and for the erection of the same in a building elsewhere, and for the ventilation of the State House, the cleaning of the basement, and the renovating of the furniture of the Executive Chamber…”

The law then goes into specifics for the Board of Public Works (BPW) to follow: “… be it enacted, that the said Board of Public Works is hereby authorized and directed to provide a proper and efficient system of ventilation of the State House.” It furthermore made into law that the BPW is “directed to have the basement of the State House and annex thoroughly cleaned…”

According to Section 4: “And be it enacted, That the said board of public works is hereby authorized to have the furniture and hangings of the Executive Chamber repaired or replaced with new furniture and hangings in such manner as it may deem necessary for the comfort of the occupants thereof.”

Section 5 continues “… That the secretary of the State Board of Health … is hereby directed to act … in all matters mentioned in the preceding section of this act which have reference to the ventilation and sanitary condition of the State House…”

The cost? I’m glad that you asked. “And be it enacted, that fifteen thousand dollars or so much thereof as may be necessary be and it is hereby appropriated to carry out the provisions of this act.”

Must have been one heck of a nice toilet. For comparison, understand that the Babylon Building on West Main Street cost five thousand dollars to build four years later in 1896. Back then, I guess, the state was “flush” with money.

I first wrote about this 15 years ago. Some excerpts of this discussion have appeared in print before. My former editor Jim Joyner also contributed to this piece. Many thanks.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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