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Dayhoff: Winchester Place thrived when Westminster was known as a summer resort

One of several hotel destinations in Westminster for folks retreating from the urban centers in the late 1800s and early 1900s was Winchester Place as shown in this 1910 postcard.
One of several hotel destinations in Westminster for folks retreating from the urban centers in the late 1800s and early 1900s was Winchester Place as shown in this 1910 postcard. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County.)

In the late 1880s into the early 1900s Westminster was considered to a be a popular resort destination — especially by folks in Baltimore, who were eager to get out into the country to get away from the heat, smoke, grit, grime, and crime of the heavily industrialized city.

For almost 100 years, from 1861 to 1960, a portion of the economic vitality of downtown Westminster was fueled by a thriving commuter passenger rail service. The passenger rail service brought folks from Washington, D.C., Hagerstown, and Baltimore to shop and spend leisurely summer excursions in Westminster. It also provided commuter transportation for many folks who worked in Baltimore.

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The passenger train service was discontinued on Oct. 3, 1960, when it could no longer compete with the service that was provided by buses on the new Md. Route 140. Unfortunately, the Westminster Train Station was lost to history when it was unceremoniously torn down in 1961 and turned into a parking lot.

One of several hotel destinations in Westminster for folks retreating from the urban centers was Winchester Place. Westminster as a summer resort capitalized upon a reputation that Westminster already had firmly in place — that of having excellent stores and shopping, hotels, restaurants, and a friendly citizenry with a great sense of hospitality.

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Recently Winchester Place has been the topic of a number of conversations. Issues and fascinations come and go quickly in a community like Westminster and Carroll County. I swear that Facebook has left us with the attention span of a goldfish. However I have been impressed at the number of times the topic of Winchester Place has recently made the rounds in the community.

So, OK, how many of you know about Winchester Place or where it is located in Westminster? Don’t cheat and go to the second half of this article to find the answer.

I had thought that I had written about Winchester Place a number of times — but I can find only one article. On the other hand, historian Cathy Baty wrote about Winchester Place for the Historical Society of Carroll County in the July 15, 2016 summer edition of the “The Carroll Courier.” And just recently the Historical Society published an informative post on Facebook. A good bit of this discussion has been published before, but apparently I need to write about again – so here goes.

The period after the American Civil War to the turn of the century in 1900 was witness to a great expansion of the industrial, commercial and employment base in Westminster which was partially fueled by the arrival of the railroad in 1861.

After the Civil War, things began to change rapidly in Westminster. The economic boom years were, in part, fueled by very small county and city governments that stayed out of the way. Flush with cash from the thriving retail, hotel, restaurant, and agricultural base; and the subsequent development of a prosperous banking, and heavy manufacturing industry, much of the infrastructure that we enjoy to this day was privately funded.

According to research for the Historical Society of Carroll County by historian Jay Graybeal, “The first Westminster city directory, published by Vanderford Bros. in 1887, included a section entitled, ‘[Westminster] As a Summer Resort.’

James S. Baer, Jr., took this photograph of members of Westminster's Methodist Protestant Church at the spring at Winchester Place on July 1, 1897. Clockwise from the top are Will Mather, Lilly Woodward, Mary Shellman, and Nan Rinker.
James S. Baer, Jr., took this photograph of members of Westminster's Methodist Protestant Church at the spring at Winchester Place on July 1, 1897. Clockwise from the top are Will Mather, Lilly Woodward, Mary Shellman, and Nan Rinker. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County.)

The 1887 directory reported, “The city is well supplied with hotels, large well-furnished and fitted up with all the modern improvements, while the rates are low as compared with those of many other places, with less attractions.”

One of the big initiatives of the time was to develop a first-class hotel. This came about just south of E. Green Street when ‘Winchester Place’ was renovated from a single family residence into a first-class hotel, according to research by Baty. The 1887 directory also noted that Winchester Place was “about five minutes’ walk from the (train) depot…”

According to the article by the Historical Society on Facebook, “the top place to stay was Winchester Place. Located just south of Green Street, between Sycamore and Ralph Streets, the house was built around 1800 as a private home.”

Not only was it a popular hotel, “There was also entertainment for the guests. The Democratic Advocate reported on ‘A Fancy Ball’ held in August 1898 which was crowded with dancers in all kinds of costumes. The dancing lasted until well after midnight… Guests at Winchester Place often returned year after year, and their arrivals were frequently reported in the local newspapers…

“Some early histories of the property attributed its construction to William Winchester but more recent research indicates that it was built after his death, probably by his son, David. The house changed owners and was enlarged several times in 19th century… The property remained a resort well into the 20th century, but today is an apartment building….”

Baty’s research indicates, “The facility, covering almost 10 acres, included the main house, cottages, a dance hall, croquet grounds, tennis courts, and a stream that was popular with picnickers. The stream was believed to have healing properties, and in 1870 the water was analyzed by Professor William E. Aiken of the University of Maryland,” who identified its medicinal value.

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Sadly, the “medicinal well” has long since disappeared. Darn shame — we could use a well with healing powers to help us get through the year 2020.

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

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