Westminster was a town of 1,900 residents in August 1863. At the time the west end of town stopped where the railroad tracks are located today. No doubt, the weather was just as hot as what we have been experiencing recently.
The area on Main Street, next to the RockSalt restaurant, was a low-lying mosquito swamp and pond. What we now know as the Westminster Playground was a swamp that extended from the Ascension Church on Court Street and the Westminster Cemetery in the east, to John Street in the west. . According to oral tradition, the flies, smoke, dust, mud, smells, varmints, snakes, and mosquitoes were epic.
In August 1863, one month after the battle of Gettysburg, which was fought from July 1-3, 7,000 Confederate prisoners were being held in the infield of Fairground Hill, while thousands of armed and wounded soldiers, mules and wagons were scattered throughout Westminster. Bear in mind, the town had no sanitary sewage or water system.
Frederic Shriver Klein writes in “Just South of Gettysburg,” that in August 1863, more than 40 prominent Westminster citizens were arrested by Union soldiers on the charge of “general disloyalty.” Those arrested included Drs. Mathias, Trumbo, J.W. Hering, and their wives. Also arrested were Col. Longwell and his wife, Mrs. Longwell, who lived in the building we know today as Westminster City Hall.
According to “Recollections” by Dr. Hering, Mrs. Longwell was told at her “trial” on Aug. 27, 1863, in Westminster that “among other things, you are charged with feeding the rebel soldiers” in her home. ”
“Well,” she replied, “I did, I would feed a hungry dog who came to my house. I would even feed you, if you came to my house hungry.” Hearing that, it is reported that Mrs. Longwell’s husband “nearly collapsed.” Mrs. Longwell is reported to have subsequently taken an oath of allegiance to the United States. Others, however, did not and were imprisoned at Fort McHenry.
In the Historical Society of Carroll County publication, “Carroll Record Histories of Northwestern Carroll County Communities,” Dr. Theodore E. Woodward wrote: “… I have always enjoyed the company of older people and ‘Uncle Thee’ was among my favorites. … His wife was a Roop, who lived at Meadowbrook, a farm several miles northwest of College Hill. We lived next door to Uncle Thee … [in] the old Matthews home … at 1 Park Place. … Living next to Uncle Thee gave me … great opportunities to listen.”
I believe the Matthews home was the home of George Washington Matthews, who passed away Aug. 23, 1903. His grandfather served in the Revolutionary War. His father participated in the defense of Baltimore on Sept. 12, 1814. His brothers served in the Civil War.
In the 1870s, Westminster annexed (not without controversy) a housing development, just outside of town, developed by Matthews. It included the area around Belle Grove Square, which he donated to be a community green space on May 8, 1877. (Matthews was part owner of the Wagner and Matthews Foundry and Machine Shops, where “The Stone Building” stands on Liberty Street.) Matthews’ son, George E. Matthew was the mayor and police chief 60 years later in 1937, when the Westminster Playground was dedicated.
Woodward continued: “Uncle Thee was 15 at the time of the Gettysburg battle. … The guns of Gettysburg were heard in Westminster and Uncle Thee, as a boy, was on the battlefield the day after Pickett’s charge … his stories of the blood, horror and stench remain fixed.”
“He heard Lincoln’s address … and saw the President. … People snickered when they saw this very tall, bearded, rather awkward man, dressed all in black and a stovepipe hat, riding a donkey leading the parade to the cemetery. His legs were so long that his feet dragged along the ground. …”
After the Civil War, Westminster expanded rapidly. Along with the growth came many growing pains. Expansion of the industrial, commercial and employment base was partially fueled by the arrival of the railroad in 1861.
As early as the 1840s, citizens in Westminster had determined that the town would be more than a county seat and a wagon train stop on the turnpike west.
In “The Building of Westminster,” Chris Weeks points to a Jan. 19, 1923 presentation, “Early Settlement of Carroll County,” by Joseph D. Brooks, that described Westminster in the 1850s as “seven taverns and (an) unceasing stream of wagons and mule drivers passing along its muddy Main Street.
By the time Carroll County went “dry” in 1914 — six years before prohibition took effect in the rest of the United States — Mary Bostwick Shellman was determined to banish Westminster’s 21 saloons, according to Nancy Warner’s book, “Carroll County Maryland, A History 1837-1976.” At this time, Westminster had only about 3,000 citizens.
Folklore has it that between the mud, dust, flies, horse and mule droppings, roaming cattle, hogs and dogs, perhaps the good ol’ days weren’t so great. Throw in “barrooms and all that accompanied them,” and it paints quite a picture.
Sorta gives new meaning to the phrase, dog days of August. And you thought the heat was a problem.
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Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.