One hundred and twenty years ago, on April 29, 1891, Dr. Jacob J. Weaver Jr., of Uniontown, began an unusual project at his house – he started the construction of his “bathroom building.”
According to research by historian Jay Graybeal, “The idea of an indoor bathroom was almost unknown until the early twentieth century.” In order to accomplish this improvement to his house, Weaver borrowed $500 – a huge sum of money in 1891. He borrowed the money from the First National Bank of Westminster which at the time was located on the east side of the railroad tracks on Main Street in Westminster – near where the library is today. Sadly, that building was torn down in the early 1960s.
Weaver kept a fairly meticulous diary of the progress of the construction of the bathroom. Today, the diary is in the collection of the Historical Society of Carroll County.
The project was completed on June 2, 1891, which means it took about a month, with a final cost of $554. According to Graybeal, “Weaver also recorded an accounting of his income for 1891 which helps place the cost of his bathroom in perspective. He recorded a net income of $3,633.60…”
It was in this time period that the State of Maryland also thought that bathrooms in Maryland were a good idea. 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.
Brown was born on Aug. 8, 1846, near Sykesville. He was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates and served from 1876-1878. 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.
The law providing the governor a toilet in the state house starts on page 337 in Volume 397, Chapter 245, Acts of the Maryland General Assembly 1892. It 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…”
The cost? I’m glad you asked. “And be it enacted, that fifteen thousand dollars … is hereby appropriated to carry out the provisions of this act.” Yup – read that again, in 1892, the State of Maryland allocated $15,000 for the purpose of installing a bathroom in the Maryland State House. Meanwhile, the year before, in 1891, a Carroll countian built a bathroom for $554.
Meanwhile, one of the better mysteries of the history of water and sewer systems in Carroll County is how the water supply (and septic facilities) for a community of 1,900 citizens withstood 30,000 mules, 7,000 Confederate prisoners and 10,000 Union troops in Westminster for a period of time in July, just after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.
In context, there are several historical references to ponds in town. A “Goose Pond” is mentioned as a water source, but this needs more research. One insight is that Liberty Street was called “Goose Pond Lane” in the latter half of the 1800s.
Another pond existed in the area where the RockSalt restaurant is now located. Known as the “community pond,” it was drained during the Civil War for building the large building to the east of the restaurant. Many will remember the building as the “Montour House Hotel” and later as “Benny’s Kitchen.”
Speaking of water and sewer systems – 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.
Our current Westminster water system is actually two water companies that were consolidated many years ago. The original systems date back to 1883 and before. According to oral tradition, the two systems incorporated a pre-1883 hodgepodge of pipes – some wooden, wells, and springs that ran in a crazy quilt hither and yon.
Then in 1883, the first private water company was created and named the Westminster Water Company. In 1901, a second company was formed named Citizens Water and Power Company. These two companies competed for customers until their consolidation in 1909. To this day there are many unconnected dual water lines constructed on some streets within the city – for example, Main Street is supplied by two very old water lines. The water system in Westminster remained in private hands until 1964 when it was purchased by the city for $961,792.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.