It was around 60 years ago when the Shaffer & Co. Variety Store, a Westminster institution near and dear to the hearts of many folks in town, closed and the building on Main Street was demolished to make way for a parking lot. I found myself lost in thought reminiscing about the Shaffer candy store the other night as I drove down Westminster’s Main Street while eating an overly sweet cookie, after a day in historic Annapolis with municipal leaders from throughout the state.
In 2011, I wrote a two-part series on the construction of the former Westminster Post Office building at the corner of Main Street and Longwell Avenue. After the articles were published, several readers got in touch with questions about the two buildings that once stood to the east of the post office in what is now a “Joni Mitchell” parking lot.
A Jan. 13, 1966, newspaper clipping provided by local historian George Welty, tells part of the story. “The Stonesifer building (was) being demolished last week to make way for Post Office enlargement. ... These two buildings located on East Main Street next to the Post Office were completely demolished last week. … The store … located in the corner building will long be remembered as Shaffer’s store.”
I have always called the parking lot next to the former Post Office the “Joni Mitchell” parking lot because five years after the “paradise” we knew as the Shaffer candy store was demolished, Mitchell wrote and performed a song titled, “Big Yellow Taxi,” in her April 1970 album, “Ladies of the Canyon.” Her lyrics read, in part, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
I recently worked late into the night rewriting a story on the positive economic impact historic preservation, arts and cultural programs have on a community.
Spoiler alert — a paragraph you will see in print in the near feature will read: Historic preservation and maintaining a successful arts center that promotes positive community values, is children-friendly and family oriented, is important to Carroll County since increasingly, folks are searching for more quality of life. This is not only translating into an active interest in community arts and cultural centers, but this search for shared community and social experiences is starting to have pronounced economic impact.
In the 1960s, Westminster’s self-esteem took second place to our search for meaningful progress. Perhaps it began with the demolition of the Westminster train station. In an article I wrote in 2014, I reported that the big news for the New Year’s celebrations in Westminster in 1897 was the opening of the new train station in town. Until 1961, the station was located between the railroad tracks and the present-day Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library. From 1861 to 1960, a good bit of the economic vitality of downtown Westminster was supported by a thriving passenger rail service.
On Oct. 3, 1960, the passenger train service stopped. Sadly, for reasons not easily understood at this time, the train station was lost to history when it was unceremoniously torn down in 1961 and turned into a parking lot.
In an article I wrote in November 1964, I reported on the demolition of the First National Bank building. It was located on Main Street in Westminster by the railroad tracks, beside the former location of the train station.
Carroll County Daily Headlines
The caption for the picture in the Hanover Evening Sun is haunting to this day. It read, “THE END – The First National Bank building on Westminster’s Main Street becomes the third familiar landmark to be demolished, as it joins the old Farmers’ Fertilizer and Feed Co. structure and the Western Maryland Railway passenger station into the pages of history in the name of progress. …”
The demolition of the wonderful brownstone building, and the accompanying caption, have caused the word “progress” to have a complicated meaning for me ever since.
An aggressive municipal approach to historic preservation and promotion of arts and cultural programs gain a community an enormous financial return on investment. Events such as this weekend’s Westminster Celtic Canter and our community’s various “stroll” events throughout the summer draw folks to our community from throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
I have never understood how someone can say the word “progress” in the same paragraph with the word “demolition.” When an individual or an institution purchases a property in a historic community such as Westminster it is implicitly understood that you enter into a social contract with the community to preserve and promote the resources that have made the investment in that property a good thing. You have a moral and ethical obligation to embrace our heritage and not abuse it.
An article on historic preservation by the National Park Service says it best. “One of the most overlooked aspects of historic preservation is its economic impact. … Preservation enhances real estate values and fosters local businesses, keeping historic main streets and downtowns economically viable. …”
A community’s investment in historic preservation is a critical component in its quality of life and economic development. Preservation spurs economic and retail growth and job creation, and directly contributes to keeping Carroll County a wonderful place to live and raise a family.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at email@example.com.