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Dayhoff: Celebrating the history of Belle Grove Square in Westminster

Belle Grove Square, pictured here on May 7, 2015, was formally turned over to the Westminster in 1877. The fountain was built in the park was in 1893. It cost $398.37. It was entirely paid for with contributions from the private sector in the community. One fundraising festival in 1893 raised $252.64 towards the cost.
Belle Grove Square, pictured here on May 7, 2015, was formally turned over to the Westminster in 1877. The fountain was built in the park was in 1893. It cost $398.37. It was entirely paid for with contributions from the private sector in the community. One fundraising festival in 1893 raised $252.64 towards the cost.(Kevin Dayhoff / Carroll County Times)

It was in May of 1877 that Belle Grove Square was formally turned over to the City of Westminster. It was probably the first formally developed open space in the city.

The park came at an interesting time for Westminster. After the Civil War, Westminster expanded rapidly. The city’s economy was moving away from the wagon stop, barroom and hotelier businesses and began its journey to becoming a regional mercantile center, where the unfinished goods were brought to town and exchanged for finished goods and a great deal of capital began to accumulate and concentrate in the city.

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The result was the physical widening of the community by way of a series of key annexations, especially the Lynch Addition, the J. T. Mathias Addition, John C. Frizzell’s Addition, and G. W. Mathews Addition.

It was the coming of the railroad in Westminster in the early 1860s that accelerated Westminster’s process of annexation and expansion, a process as old as the city itself. To the south of the city, the railroad cut right through the Lynch Farm. Overnight in 1861, the day after the railroad opened, the Lynch property became quite valuable. The Lynch family had the farm annexed into the city in the 1870s and developed much of what we know as the southern side of Green Street, from Liberty Street to Center Street as well as the eastern side of Liberty Street.

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The “J. T. Mathias Addition” was the first industrial and commercial annexation. It occurred right after the Civil War. George W. Matthews was part owner of the Wagner and Matthew’s Foundry and Machine Shops, where “The Stone Building,” now known as O’Lordan’s Pub, is located on Liberty Street.

The origins of Belle Grove Square date back to 1866 when what was then farmland and woods was originally purchased by George W. and Maria Matthews. The Matthews family first proposed Belle Grove Square to be community green space on the mid 1870s, long before our Westminster Playground was developed in the mid-1930s.

“Later, Matthews had the property, ‘Matthews’ Addition’ annexed into the city and in June 1875 he developed “thirty lots bounded by West Green, Bond, Matthews (now Park Place) and Park Streets,” into a housing development, according to research for the Historical Society of Carroll County by Jay Graybeal.

Volunteers from Woman’s Club of Westminster gather together to work on the gardens in Belle Grove Square in late summer 2008. Pictured from left to right: Sue Thomas, Barbara Shipley, Emily Green, Babs Condon, Becca Wagman, Tricia Wagman, Jeanne Herr, Trinka Cueman, Jo Harp, Norma Jean Swam, and Sharon Quinter.
Volunteers from Woman’s Club of Westminster gather together to work on the gardens in Belle Grove Square in late summer 2008. Pictured from left to right: Sue Thomas, Barbara Shipley, Emily Green, Babs Condon, Becca Wagman, Tricia Wagman, Jeanne Herr, Trinka Cueman, Jo Harp, Norma Jean Swam, and Sharon Quinter.(Photo courtesy of the Woman’s Club of Westminster)

He reserved the center for a park primarily for the use of the residents of his addition. As early as June 1875 the city had approached Matthews to discuss the transference of the park, initially mentioned in the city council minutes as ‘LaFayette Square.’

“Matthews agreed to consider the request but wanted to discuss the matter with the adjacent property owners. In the meantime the park was already being used for public purposes. On July 4, 1876, the City dedicated a monument commemorating the Centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The brownstone marker still stands in the park…”

According to Chris Weeks’ book, “The Building of Westminster,” on March 5, 1877 George W. Matthews appeared before a meeting of the Mayor and Common Council of Westminster and offered what we now know as Belle Grove Square to the city.

Matthews "voluntarily tendered them a lot of ground near the Reformed Church to be used as a public square and to be under the control and management of the corporation of Westminster… The council discussed several issues, such as whether or not a fence should be erected before the deed was finally presented from Matthews and wife to the council on May 8, 1877.” Graybeal reports that “a deed was recorded on May 21st, 1877.” It was at that point that the park was named after the Matthews’ daughter, Carrie Belle,

In an interesting twist of historic fate, George W. Matthews’ son, George E. Matthews was the Mayor 60 years later in 1937, when the Westminster Playground was dedicated — the same year Carrie Belle died. Mayor Matthews was elected in 1926 and died in office in 1938. He was concurrently the mayor and chief of police.

The Matthews’ Addition development was successful because of its close proximity to the employment provided by the heavy manufacturing facilities along the railroad tracks and in the Lynch and Mathias Addition.

According to Judge Joe Getty, a local historian, in the quarter-century that followed the Civil War, public improvements, including gas lights, water systems, macadamized roads and concrete sidewalks were important public issues discussed in Westminster.

Most of the improvements were the result of successful private-public partnerships. One such project, in 1893, was the fountain for Belle Grove Square. The cost of the fountain was $398.37. It was entirely paid for with contributions from the private sector in the community. One fundraising festival in 1893 raised $252.64 towards the cost.

Civic-minded generosity continues to this day in Belle Grove Square as the flower gardens are wonderfully taken care of by The Woman’s Club of Westminster. Belle Grove Square was restored by the GFWC Woman’s Club of Westminster in 1976.

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In 1981 the park was deemed one of Westminster’s sacred spaces in a book by the late professor of religion, Dr. Ira G. Zepp, Jr., of McDaniel College and photographer Marty Lanham.

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

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